Approaching the aftermath of the first non-winning season of his tenure in charge of baseball operations for the Cardinals, John Mozeliak pledged a commitment to stability on Friday, sharing that manager Oliver Marmol would return to the dugout for his third season in St. Louis.
“I think the job he does is good,” Mozeliak said of Marmol. “I mean, I really do. I think this year is tough. There’s always going to be finger pointing on what went wrong, what could we have done differently. That starts with myself…I’m certainly encouraged by what I see out of Oli as a young manager.”
Discussion of potential reorganization of the coaching staff was kicked off Friday by the quiet resignation of assistant hitting coach Daniel Nicolaisen, who took an assistant coaching position with the University of Mississippi’s softball team. Both Marmol and Mozeliak described that decision as based around lifestyle factors and the challenges of raising a family while maintaining a grueling big league schedule.
Minor league hitting coordinator Russ Steinhorn will join the major league staff to handle Nicolaisen’s duties for the remainder of the season. Cardinals Hall of Famer and roving minor league pitching instructor Jason Isringhausen will also be in uniform for both series on this homestand both to contribute to instruction on that side of the ball and to gather his own experience for potential future coaching roles.
Assistant minor league pitching coordinator Dean Kiekhefer traveled with the team in a similar role to Isringhausen on their most recent road trip.
Marmol’s security with the Cardinals has truly never been in doubt throughout this turbulent season, and there was an underlying assumption around the club that he would return. Mozeliak’s formal pronouncement, though, calls attention to Marmol’s contract status, which likely will need to be resolved at some point over the winter.
Having originally signed a three-year contract after being hired after the 2021 season, Marmol will be entering the final year of his deal. Typically, both for the Cardinals and around the league, there’s a desire among all parties to avoid “lame duck” status. For the Cardinals, who are committed to strong activity in the free agent pitching market this coming winter, that concern is perhaps heightened.
Pitchers who might be intrigued by the concept of signing multi-year deals in St. Louis will seek stability, and as part of that, they will want to have at least a degree of confidence around who will be managing the team through at least the intermediate future.
A manager on a one year deal coming off a team’s first losing season in a decade and a half does not project that level of stability. An extension for Marmol, given the Cardinals’ belief in him, should be a natural part of the order of operations before the close of next year’s spring training.
Mozeliak declined to comment on the team’s comfort level entering a season in that position. “I’m not sure how to answer that,” he said, before announcing that Marmol would at least return for 2024.
The Cardinals do not expect his entire staff to join him, even outside of the in-season change, though Mozeliak chalked up those potential changes to “natural churn.”
“I think we all have to agree this year happened. It’s behind us, it was not what we had hoped, it was not good,” he said. “So to do nothing, regardless of how you think about organizational structure, we should be looking at different ways to solve our problems in our situation. I just think all of those things are on the table. When you ask that question, I really think it’s more baseball operations in general and not simply just the major league staff.”
For several weeks, there has been an expectation throughout the organization that the most impactful changes will come from the player development – more precisely, pitching development – side of the operation. With the revamp of the club’s complex in Jupiter, Fla. delayed by a year, integration of technological solutions throughout the system with their existing infrastructure will come under close scrutiny.
So too will the communication among the major league pitching coaches about much of the intelligence and preparation that comes from their more advanced tools. Pitching coach Dusty Blake, who Mozeliak said, “has a bright future in this league and is certainly someone that we believe in,” was previously in charge of sifting through those analytic reports and helping provide them in digestible format to the coaching staff.
With his promotion to pitching coach, there was no direct replacement in that role. Game planning coach Packy Elkins has been tasked with adding some of those responsibilities to his heavy load on the hitting side, and he was highly lauded for that work Friday. Still, the club has felt some of the strain of the pitching coach shift.
The Cardinals appear to be a team in search of additions to their staff, rather than subtraction. Minor attrition aside, Mozeliak’s posture Friday was one of a leader who understands his own culpability in this failed season and is disinclined to pass the buck for his own roster building shortcomings to the coaches.
The staff, largely, will be given an opportunity to show that 2023 has been an aberration. It’s unlikely that they’ll receive a second, similar opportunity without significant improvements.