Jocketty says aide is ready
Cardinals assistant general manager Mozeliak hopes to get the Cincinnati Reds' top job.
As two of baseball's most venerable franchises, the Cincinnati Reds and Cardinals hold much in common - except timing.
During the past four decades, when one team has found success the other has endured difficulty. The Reds enjoyed winning records and five first-place finishes during the 1970s and 1990s while the Cardinals experienced droughts that featured only one postseason appearance. While the Cards have finished first nine times in the 1980s and 2000s, the Reds have suffered through losing decades without a postseason sniff.
Commonality between franchises grew this month when Major League Baseball approved the transfer of the Reds to a group headed by Cincinnati produce magnate Robert Castellini, previously a Cardinals minority shareholder. Moving quickly to reshape his depressed product, Castellini last week dismissed general manager Dan O'Brien. Among the list of eight potential successors is Cardinals assistant general manager John Mozeliak.
For a change, the timing should work for both, according to Redbirds general manager Walt Jocketty.
Coming off his team's fifth postseason appearance in six years, Jocketty has actively endorsed the candidacy of Mozeliak, his 37-year-old understudy for much of the past 10 years.
"He's been exposed to just about everything he would need," Jocketty said shortly before attending Sunday night's Baseball Writers Association of America banquet in New York. "He's had some experience in different areas. He's prepared to make decisions. It's great to have experience in different areas to make intelligent decisions. 'Mo' certainly is very qualified to handle that."
Mozeliak is expected to interview with Castellini in Cincinnati this week. He is not considered a favorite in a process that also involves Minnesota assistant GM Wayne Krivsky, Reds assistant GM Brad Kullman, former Montreal and Baltimore GM Jim Beattie and Philadelphia assistant GM for scouting and player development Mike Arbuckle.
Krivsky was believed the frontrunner for the position when O'Brien became the surprise choice in October 2003. Kullman served in an interim role following the ouster of Jim Bowden in 2003.
Beattie, fired by the similarly dysfunctional Orioles last November, serves as a Reds special assistant. Arbuckle, with roots tracing to renowned Atlanta Braves scout Paul Snyder, became known as a candidate Sunday night.
"I'm extremely flattered and honored for this opportunity," Mozeliak said. "But I'm also realistic. It's just an opportunity to be interviewed at this point. It's hard to put the cart in front of the horse. I'm making sure I'm doing due diligence to get to a level of comfort and awareness with the organization."
Approached by a reporter three years ago to assess Mozeliak's qualifications to assume a GM job, Jocketty withheld a recommendation, saying his understudy needed more seasoning.
"There's no doubt in my mind he's ready now," Jocketty said.
Mozeliak since has overseen the amateur draft while serving two years as scouting director in addition to assistant general manager. He also has played a significant role in constructing the major-league budget and preparing for arbitration. Another responsibility is assigning value to position needs. Such an assessment contributed to the Cardinals' unwillingness to go beyond $2 million for one season to free-agent second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. (They subsequently addressed the void by trading for Aaron Miles and signing non-tender free agent Junior Spivey for $1 million. Deivi Cruz was signed as well for $800,000.)
Mozeliak's relationship with the agent for pitcher Sidney Ponson, Barry Praver, also factored heavily in the gifted but troubled Ponson accepting a $1 million contract to revive his career in St. Louis.
Jocketty recently endorsed Mozeliak to Castellini, as has general partner Bill DeWitt Jr.
"Bob likes the way we've done things in St. Louis," Jocketty said. "I told him I've worked with Mo for nine or 10 years, and he's been a big part of the operation."
Mozeliak lists among his influences Cardinals vice president for player personnel Jerry Walker and former vice president Bob Gebhard. Walker served as Detroit's GM during the early '90s. Gebhard, now with Arizona, served as Colorado's GM when Mozeliak received his first professional opportunity with that club in 1993.
"I do think I can complement an organization with my diversity of experience. In that regard, I feel I'm very prepared," Mozeliak said.
Castellini could not be reached to comment Sunday; however, Jocketty's recommendation should carry weight. Castellini and partners W.J. and T.L. Williams retained about a 20 percent share in the Cardinals before making a successful $270 million bid for the Reds.
The Reds will remain a small-market franchise, as Castellini projects nothing more than a $60 million payroll. But that cannot explain how four of the franchise's five minor-league affiliates finished last in their respective leagues in 2005, or why the franchise has been unable to draft and develop an impact starting pitcher since Tom Browning in 1981. Many consider the Reds a contender for the league's worst record in '06.
Jocketty, for one, doesn't believe the mess is too huge for a first-time general manager.
"I look at Cincinnati as being very similar to the Cardinals 10 or 11 years ago when that group bought the team," Jocketty said. "The team needed some new direction and new leadership. It wouldn't take too long to turn around."
Jocketty interviewed for six GM vacancies before being hired by the Cardinals in October 1994. He was 43. Increasingly smitten by Ivy League diplomas and worshipers of quantitative analysis, baseball has since turned to younger men. Texas named Jon Daniels, 29, to succeed John Hart.
Jocketty isn't impressed by the move toward young brains with limited experience within the business.
Asked to compare Mozeliak's credentials with those of some recent GM hires, Jocketty replied, "He's probably more qualified." Pausing for a moment, Jocketty corrected himself. "Not probably. Definitely more qualified."