By Rob Rains
When Adam Wainwright returns for what in all likelihood will be his finals season with the Cardinals next year, he is going to see a lot of new faces on the team’s coaching staff.
It appears likely he also will be throwing to a new catcher.
John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, conducted his annual post-season review with the media on Wednesday at Busch Stadium. He announced Wainwright’s return and also revealed that four members of the team’s coaching staff will not be back in 2023.
It was announced on Tuesday that Skip Schumaker was leaving his position as the team’s bench coach to become the manager of the Miami Marlins. In addition, pitching coach Mike Maddux, hitting coach Jeff Albert and bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd will not return.
Maddux, who had spent the last five years with the Cardinals, informed Mozeliak that he wanted to do something different with his contract expiring. Albert’s contract also was up after three years and Mozeliak said he was prepared to offer him a new deal before Albert told him he was not going to return. Eversgerd will be reassigned to a different role in the organization.
The search for replacements on the staff of manager Oli Marmol already has begun, Mozeliak said, and will include candidates from both within and outside the organization.
“Clearly we have a lot of openings,” Mozeliak said.
Albert had been the focus of a lot of criticism during his tenure with the Cardinals and Mozeliak said Albert told him that was part of the reason he decided to leave.
“Jeff accomplished exactly what we were hoping he would do,” Mozeliak said. “He modernized our hitting program, our strategy. I think he made a huge contribution to our minor-league side. When you look at what was happening up here at the big-league level, I think people were tough on him. It wasn’t an easy job.
“Our offense was good this year. When you compare it to the league it was good. I was hopeful he would come back. For personal reasons and wanting to try something different is why we are where we are.”
Maddux also expressed a desire for a change.
“In his case I think he’s just done it for so long that he is just looking for a change of pace,” Mozeliak said. “In Jeff’s case I think there were some levels of frustration, feeling like he took a lot of the blame when things weren’t going well. For him, he was just open to change.”
Among other topics discussed by Mozeliak on Wednesday were Wainwright’s return, the team’s desire to add a catcher with Yadier Molina retiring, his optimism that Nolan Arenado will not exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, the disappointment of being eliminated from the playoffs in just two games after winning a division title, and a commitment that the Cardinals will have a higher payroll next season.
In his own media session, conducted while he was in the drive-thru lane picking his kids up from school, Wainwright said part of his motivation to return was based on his own personal performance in September and the team’s failure to advance farther in the postseason.
He also confirmed that he is planning on next year being the final year of his career – but he doesn’t that to be the focus of the season.
“Everybody relax, let me pitch,”Wainwright said. “Let me go out and perform. Don’t freak out about it every single day. Let’s see what happens.
“I have been told from players, fans and family that I need to enjoy that (the attention) and soak that up. For me if I went out and pitched 33 games next year and then six or seven more in the postseason and we win the World Series then if I got to say on the World Series stage, ‘nice knowing you, see you all later’, that would be the way to do it for me.”
Wainwright got to watch, and enjoy, the retirement tours of Molina and Albert Pujols, and set the all-time record for starts by a pitcher and catcher with Molina. As he tries to reach 210 career wins next season, which would be the second most in franchise history behind Bob Gibson, it will probably come with a catcher the Cardinals hope to acquire this winter.
Andrew Knizner served as Molina’s backup this season, with prospect Ivan Herrera being groomed in Triple A, but Mozeliak made it clear that trying to upgrade the position, especially offensively, will be one of the team’s priorities this winter.
“As we look at what that market might look like it’s going to be very difficult to just say ‘oh we’re replacing Yadi’,” Mozeliak said. “There is definitely some offensive upside in that but we don’t want to take a huge step back defensively.
“I think Kiz did a nice job but when you are looking at an everyday catcher you’re hoping you can find more there.”
The Cardinals could explore the free agent market, where Willson Contreras will be available, or pursue a trade for someone like Oakland’s Sean Murphy.
Mozeliak said he met with Arenado on Monday to discuss his situation. He has five days after the end of the World Series to decide if he will exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, which has five years remaining.
“I don’t think it’s about reworking the deal,” Mozeliak said. “He asked some questions on how we are thinking about the club, what we are thinking about the future; topics like how are we going to deploy our resources. It was a very positive conversation.”
The changes that he discussed with Arenado are now part of Mozeliak’s focus going into the general manager’s meetings in November and then the winter meetings in December.
“When you really take a minute to unpack 2022, we played September flat, we went into October flat and we got eliminated,” Mozeliak said. “That’s reality.
“I don’t think that means we have to totally rethink how we build a club but what can we do differently to either create more depth or breadth of that lineup.”
One constant Mozeliak now knows about the team’s 2023 plan is Wainwright, who also knows there are some parts of the team that needs to change.
“Those big-time impact bats are big in the postseason,” Wainwright said. “You need those pieces to surround those big guys in the middle of the order. Those complimentary pieces are so big in setting the lineup, setting the table.
“GMs have their work cut out for them to figure out what that winning mix is. Getting that right mix is a big deal.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports