ST. LOUIS — As he perched atop the dugout bench at Busch Stadium on Friday afternoon, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak addressed what has been perhaps the most pressing topic regarding his ballclub in the second half of the season.
Manager Oli Marmol will return for 2024 — the final year of his three-year contract signed in November 2021.
“I do support (Marmol),” Mozeliak said. “I know he’ll be back next year.”
That Marmol will continue does not come as a surprise. Mozeliak has no shortage of items to address with the Cardinals closing in on one of their worst seasons in 50 years. But the manager role was never figured to be one of them — even with St. Louis one loss shy from securing their first losing season since 2007.
“I think the job he does is good, I really do,” Mozeliak added. “I think this year is tough. There’s always going to be finger-pointing on what went wrong, what could we have done differently. And that starts with myself. We know when we look at 2024, things have to be different, but I’m certainly encouraged with what I see from Oli as a young manager. He’s extremely well organized, I think he’s prepared and I do think he gets a lot out of his players.”
In addressing the media this afternoon at Busch Stadium, John Mozeliak ensured manager Oli Marmol’s employment for 2024.
“I do support him. I know he’ll be back next year. I think the job he does is good.”
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The Cardinals did announce a departure from the major-league staff, as assistant hitting coach Dan Nicolaisen resigned from his position to take a job as an assistant softball coach for Ole Miss. The decision was personal — Nicolaisen has two young children with his wife, Wendi, and the opportunity to return to collegiate sports (Nicolaisen coached softball at Seton Hall for two seasons before joining the Cardinals in 2020) provided a better work-life balance. Hitting coordinator Russ Steinhorn will backfill Nicolaisen’s role for the immediate future, with game-planning coach Packy Elkins slotting in when needed.
When asked if he anticipated any other changes to the coaching staff, Mozeliak was vague.
“Fair question,” Mozeliak said. “I think as we start to reflect on that, I could see some changes, but I haven’t made that determination yet.”
This is not an atypical response. The Cardinals usually refrain from finalizing decisions until after the organization has conducted its annual end-of-season meetings. Even if Mozeliak currently has an inkling of the changes he would or would not like to make, nothing can be guaranteed until those meetings conclude. And often, plans change. For example, after the team’s wild-card exit in 2021, Mozeliak began the end-of-year meetings with plans to potentially extend then-manager Mike Shildt, only to end up firing him. Last season, the Cardinals planned to offer extensions to former pitching coach Mike Maddux and former hitting coach Jeff Albert, but both elected to pursue other opportunities.
Mozeliak praised the current coaching staff, which includes first-year coaches (relative to their role with the team) in pitching coach Dusty Blake, assistant hitting coach Julio Rangel, hitting coach Turner Ward, assistant hitting coach Brandon Allen and bench coach Joe McEwing.
“I think it’s hard to judge (Blake) in the sense of when you look at just pure performance, because of all the injuries, plus all the trades we made,” Mozeliak explained. “I think he’s a modern, progressive coach that understands the modern tools and how to use them. He has a very bright future in this league and (is) certainly someone we believe in. … (Ward) has been a major-league hitting coach in the past, he understands. I think he’s done a great job and I think players like working with him. And I think in (McEwing’s) case, he was definitely drinking from a firehose (due to his late hire) so there was a lot to digest for him this year. I think he’s trying to make adjustments as he goes and that’s understandable.”
Mozeliak also acknowledged organizational changes will still need to take place next season.
“We’re going to reflect on it, but as a whole, we like this group,” Mozeliak said. “The key when you think about staffing is you ask yourself the questions that are relationship-based; how they get along with people and players. Then, are they moving the needle to help players grow? Those are all things that are determined internally that we don’t necessarily share in public … but a lot of this is what did the resume look like before they got here, and how have they helped people grow?”
“I think we all have to agree, this year happened,” he added. “It’s behind us, it was not what we had hoped, it was not good. To do nothing, regardless of how you think about the organizational structure, I do think we should be looking at different ways to solve our problems in our situation. … I really think it’s more baseball operations in general, and not simply just our major-league staff.”
The Cardinals have begun preliminary discussions to restructure their player development system, multiple sources tell The Athletic. Those discussions are in the initial stages, but it’s believed boosting both the team’s player development system and baseball operations department will be just as high of a priority for the front office as acquiring pitching in the offseason.
Those items — along with the need to effectively communicate with his staff at the end of the season — are telling as to why Mozeliak’s answer about the future of the major-league coaching staff was so ambiguous. There is a chance the Cardinals could choose to add to its staff (or rearrange it), especially if the goal is to replenish the farm system. St. Louis boasts the 18th best farm system (per Fangraphs) in baseball, including the prospect haul they received from their sell-off at the trade deadline.
Gary LaRocque — who has been the Cardinals’ director of player development since 2014 and was promoted to assistant general manager in 2022 — already has a small staff in comparison to powerhouses like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays, and rising contenders such as the Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks. Player development — especially pitching — is one of the many areas that has been exposed this season. Though Mozeliak is far from reaching any conclusions about how he could revamp the organization, modernizing and adding additional resources and staff to player development will be addressed.
There will not be a managerial change in St. Louis next year, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be significant changes elsewhere in the organization.
(Photo of Oli Marmol: Jerome Miron / USA Today)