As Cardinals toil in last place, Mozeliak says a complete tear down is not an option

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“I’m on business,” Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras said Friday from a podium located in the bowels of London Stadium. “I’m not thinking of something else.”

Then Contreras exited the press conference and went out onto the field with his teammates where a McLaren Formula 1 car was parked directly behind the batting cage and its driver, Lando Norris, was signing autographs for star struck baseball players.

Magician Daniel Rose was roping players in for a variety of card tricks, and seemingly more than a dozen television crews were getting their hands on anyone they could find in a uniform to describe their excitement for the weekend.

Even the coaches were taking time to forcibly bounce baseballs off the various textures of Field Turf and gawking in astonishment at the aggressive bounces off the artificial grass.

If this is business, it’s business like Contreras and the crew have very rarely seen.

The Cubs and Cardinals ran through a workout day in front of a scattering of fans who secured tickets for the event and various groups of London school children who were much less interested in the activity on the field than the antics of Fredbird and Clark the Cub.

All the while, in the midst of media availability, a reporter from a Japanese outlet politely asked manager Oliver Marmol how the team planned to remove themselves from last place in the NL Central.

“It’s nice to be reminded of that in London,” Marmol said just outside the range of the microphone after offering a polite defense of his team’s trend line.

That trend line hasn’t yet broken through into sustained success despite positive signs on the team’s trip to New York and Washington. With less than six weeks remaining until the trade deadline, this period of time — starting with two games against the rival Cubs, far ahead in the standings — will define whether the Cardinals fold up tents or re-examine their fortunes for the rest of this season.

“I think we could probably define (four) models on how we think about the trading deadline,” President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said. “As we sit here on the 23rd of June, we still don’t know exactly which path we’ll walk. From a front office standpoint, we have to start preparing.”

Mozeliak defined those four models as buying, selling, “hold pat, do nothing,” and then a fourth path, which sounded like the version the team is likely to pursue regardless of their record.

“There could be some deals made that ... maybe could help now, but also could help in the future, or that maybe could be more of a reshuffling,” he said.

St. Louis Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said the organization essentially has four models on how they will approach the upcoming MLB trade deadline. The Cardinals are currently in London set to play the Chicago Cubs and are in last place in the National League Central. Jeff Roberson/AP
St. Louis Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said the organization essentially has four models on how they will approach the upcoming MLB trade deadline. The Cardinals are currently in London set to play the Chicago Cubs and are in last place in the National League Central. Jeff Roberson/AP

‘We’re not where we want to be’

The only firm commitment Mozeliak gave was the Cardinals would not and could not pursue a full scale, tear-it-down style rebuild like that which the Astros and Cubs have undertaken in recent years to some success and like the Orioles are just now emerging from.

“I would hope the Cardinals are not allowed to rebuild,” Mozeliak said, acknowledging the “pressure” he feels from a devoted fan base to avoid a strategy that includes intentional losing.

“We know we’re not where we want to be, and we know we have to make some changes,” he conceded.

The looming changes will certainly be in and around the pitching staff, where Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery have free agency approaching and the team will have to decide whether to provide them with a qualifying offer. By tendering a one-year contract worth in the neighborhood of $20 million, the Cardinals would secure compensation should either sign elsewhere; that bounty also helps set the standard for the minimum they should expect to receive in a trade.

Before that time comes, though, Flaherty is scheduled to start here Sunday and quietly took in the scene while Montgomery swapped out his Cardinals cap for a McLaren F1 hat and watched race car drivers stand in for batting practice.

More from London

Inside, the team’s clubhouse was built from scratch in a long tunnel that, in this building’s previous life as the primary track and field venue for the London Olympics, served as a warmup area for sprinters. Paul DeJong excitedly recounted being told by a clubhouse attendant that legendary sprinter Usain Bolt had warmed up exactly where they were sitting.

Paul Goldschmidt, meanwhile, shared that a group of players’ significant others boarded a bus for an afternoon tea seating at Harrod’s department store, only to find themselves snarled in traffic and decamping, en masse, to a tube station to finish their journey. He was planning to locate some soccer ephemera for his son and a souvenir tea set for his daughter; he doesn’t typically bring home souvenirs, but this trip seemed special.

For all of the pressure of the standings and the unending push to win, it is special. Business or no, this is unlike any environment most of the Cardinals had previously experienced, and most seemed to be taking it in with gusto.

Then they showered, boarded the bus, and checked in on tomorrow’s report time on the way out the door. Some things change, some things don’t.