Cardinals at the Crossroads

You know, so far this season, the new Cardinals GM has led a pretty charmed life.

True, John Mozeliak did inherit a mess of a front office at the beginning of his tenure. He did some nice work with that situation, moving quickly to restore harmony and begin healing the rifts between various factions in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. So there is that. He did a nice job of trying to add some stability to the team's roster, and I said as much over at Viva El Birdos quite a while back.

But when it comes right down to it, he hasn't really had his feet held to the fire just yet.

This is a Cardinal team that came into the season with very low (some might say nonexistent), expectations set before it. In the off-season, it was generally accepted that the Cardinals were just flat out going to be bad this year, pretty much no matter what After the debacle of 2007, it didn't much seem to matter what Johnny Mo' did. All we were really hoping for is that it didn't get any worse.

After the season started, Cardinal fans continued to preach patience, accepting that this was a transition year. Even as the team started off hot, we still just took it as a bonus, a tiny little bit of serendipity thrown our way by the baseball gods. Manager Tony La Russa, long thought to have a problem with young players, somehow found a way to get this team to play hard and play well.

All pleasant surprises.

We all looked around at the end of April; lo and behold, the Cardinals were in first place. ''Wow, what a crazy season,'' we all said. ''I don't know how long it's going to last,'' we said. ''But I'm just going to enjoy it while it lasts.''

Well, it looks as if all that may be coming to an end now.

The patience of the fans, and the manager, appears to be running out already. You turn on talk radio, or check the message boards, and all you read about is how the Cardinals need to make a move to keep up with the Cubs and the Brewers. They both just made big acquisitions, so what are we doing? We can't just stand still; the division is going to get away from us.

The manager has also apparently decided that the patient, prudent, build it for the long-term approach just isn't cutting it anymore. He's tossing around demands for the Cards to make a deal, saying they need better protection for Pujols. So now Mo has to make a move.

Actually, wait. Let me break in here for a second. The whole thing about Tony wanting ''better protection'' for Pujols is a bit irritating to me. The thing is, demanding that sort of protection is easy to do, but filling such a request is damn near impossible. There's really only one player on the market that Tony can be referring to with that sort of demand, and that's Colorado's Matt Holliday.

The problem with that, of course, is that Holliday plays the outfield, which is already pretty crowded here in St. Louis last I checked. So I just have to wonder, if Tony wants Holliday, which one of our current flycatchers sits?

I can't imagine it would be Ankiel, since he's far and away the best center fielder currently on the team. Tony seems to have quite a man crush on Skip Schumaker, so I doubt it's him. Do you sit down Ryan Ludwick? Well, as I detailed earlier, Ludwick and Holliday are pretty much the same player when you take away Holliday's Coors Field bonus. So you can sit Luddy down, but any improvement you might see in the offense will probably be pretty marginal.

So do we send away Chris Duncan to make room for Matt Holliday? I guess that's possible, but Duncan went down to Triple A, hit .160, and still got the call back to the big leagues, so... well, I'm not really sure how to finish that thought. It just seems to me that when a player most likely called his current manager ''Uncle Tony'' when he was little, there's not a whole lot of chance that he's ever going to truly be the odd man out. So exactly where do you fit in Holliday's big outfield bat, Tony?

Sorry for the tangent. It just seems as if there's constant call from everybody lately for the Cards to add a bat, but no one stops to consider just exactly where that guy is going to play. This isn't the American League; every player has to have a position.

And so we now see the Cardinals at a crossroads of the season. They still haven't won a series in July after dropping two of three to the Phillies, and they've fallen back to 4.5 games behind the Cubs. The Brewers just acquired one of the best pitchers in the game, and are right on the Cardinals' collective asses.

So just what does Mo' do now? Up to this point, the expectations were so low that no one minded the plan calling for being more tortoise than hare. Now, though, it looks as if Mozeliak is going to have to make a decision.

Does Mo' stick with the plan, secure in the knowledge that he's doing the right thing for the team in the long term? Or does he do what everybody else goes to the crossroads to do and sell his soul to try and keep up with the Cubs and the Brewers?

It's been pretty easy for Mo so far this season. He's just kind of been able to go with the flow. Well, the current is changing, and he's going to have to decide what to do about it. I think I've probably made my position on the matter pretty clear in the past. I'll be waiting with bated breath to see just what Mo decides to do.

- Aaron Schafer