Stability breeds playoff chances for Cards
Front office focuses on building successful club from within
ST. LOUIS -- The Braves have been around the playoffs, but they haven't won it all. The Phillies have won the big prize, but they haven't been a fixture. Over the course of the past decade, the face of the National League in October has been the Cardinals.
A title like "team of the decade" doesn't mean quite so much in baseball as it does in, say, college football. But there's little doubt that if such an award were to be handed out, in the NL it would go to the team from St. Louis. Then again, the Redbirds have been the face of the NL for most of the past 80 years or so. Stability is a big part of the Cardinal way of doing things, and it's a big part of why the organization has made seven playoff appearances -- including six outright division titles -- and won two pennants and a World Series title since 2000.
"You look at ways to perpetuate winning and success," general manager John Mozeliak said. "That's what we try to do. And to be in the situation that we're in today is a great compliment to so many different people at so many different levels. From ownership to our front office to our Major League staff to our fans. It's a great story."
Principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and his ownership group took control of the club in 1996. Mozeliak has been in the organization for just as long, though he took over as general manager only two years ago. Manager Tony La Russa has helmed the Cardinals for that entire stint, and he has had Dave McKay and Dave Duncan on his coaching staff for the entirety of his tenure. The relative newcomer to the staff is hitting coach Hal McRae, and he was hired after the 2004 season.
Stability matters, and it's valued in the Cardinals organization.
"I think it needs to be a goal," Mozeliak said. "I think it needs to be something that you focus on and try to maintain. Obviously if things aren't working, you're going to have to change. But if things are working, it's about just improving. We've been fortunate because we've been able to do that and continue building on it."
Stability doesn't mean paralysis, though. The Cardinals underwent a change in the way they do business at the same time that they removed Walt Jocketty as GM and replaced him with Mozeliak. They attempted to move toward a more in-house, sustainable model of building a team, relying less on free agents and more on homegrown products.
The goal, though, remained the same: win, and continue to win. It hasn't gone unnoticed.
Starting pitcher Kyle Lohse signed in the spring of '08, agreeing to a one-year deal. Despite not making the playoffs in '08, he re-upped for four years on the last day of that season.
"It starts with Tony and the management," Lohse said. "They seem to always be bringing guys in that help. They're a team that does things right, does the little things, doesn't just gloss them over. ... You could see last year. We didn't finish where we wanted to, but you could see that the guys here really knew what they were doing. It felt like it was an off year, but a couple of injuries changed the way the outcome was. From my perspective, it was definitely a place where I wanted to stay and settle in."
The turnaround took all of two years. The Cardinals turned over their World Series-winning 2006 roster in the next two seasons. In '08, they resisted some midseason acquisitions that didn't make sense, because of the future cost and the front office's belief that the club might still be too flawed even after Deadline deals.
And then, when 2009 came, the Redbirds were ready. They made several significant in-season acquisitions, and the team took off. Now they're back in the playoffs, gunning to become the NL's only two-time World Series champion this decade. They're already the only club to win the Senior Circuit pennant twice in the 2000s, and they would love to make it three.
What they've already accomplished isn't enough.
"This year, we haven't done anything, just getting to the playoffs," Albert Pujols said. "If you tell me in November when the postseason is done that we accomplished that goal, winning a World Series, I can tell you then. Right now, I think we have a great team. I think we're pretty equipped with everything that we have. I think we have guys that are really hungry."
For now, and for the years to come.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.