Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who had been in the job since 2011, was one of two coaches let go by the Cardinals on Tuesday. (File)

By Rob Rains


The Cardinals made the first of what is expected to be several off-season moves on Tuesday, announcing that pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and bullpen coach Blaise llsley will not return next season.

That was the biggest piece of news which came out of the annual season wrap-up press conference at Busch Stadium with John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations; general manager Michael Girsch and manager Mike Matheny.

Mozeliak, who answered the majority of the questions, also stressed the organization’s goal this winter is to “get this right” and acknowledge that nobody, from owner Bill DeWitt Jr. down, is happy about the team missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

“That’s uncomfortable,” Mozeliak said. “Ownership on down expects more. The fact we did have a winning season is nice, but it wasn’t our goal. Our goal was to get into the postseason, have a deep run and give ourselves a chance.

“We believe there is a lot of talent on the roster, we believe there is a lot of talent in the organization and we are confident we can get this right. … We have ownership support, we have resources and we are excited to get it going.”

The first order of business will be hiring the two new coaches, Mozeliak said.

Since he became the team’s general manager, Mozeliak has always had a philosophy of trying to promote coaches from inside the organization whenever possible, and that could happen again – although there is no guarantee that will be the case in filling these jobs.

The two coaches in the system who would appear to be the most viable options, for either role, is Memphis pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd and Springfield coach Jason Simontacchi. Another internal candidate could be Tim Leveque, the senior minor-league pitching coordinator.

Mozeliak said he is going to be looking for a coach who is comfortable with using analytics as part of his decision-making process.

“I feel we are a very process-oriented organization,” Mozeliak said. “When you’re thinking about where we are and what we need to do moving forward, we felt this was an opportunity to improve. … I felt like the process was not ideal for future growth.

“This is a unique spot. We have to get this right. … We’re all incentified to make sure we get the right people.”

The Cardinals anticipate having a very young starting rotation next season, and have more prospects coming up through the system, but Mozeliak said he didn’t believe that would be a major factor in who the team decides to hire.

“I don’t think that’s going to factor in the ‘who’ but the ‘who’ has to understand modern strategy, modern analytics and how we can leverage that to optimize our staff,” he said.

“When you are looking at pitch strategy and the modernization of the tools that we have available to us, we need somebody that understands it, has interest in it and communicates it and can teach it.”

One former Cardinal who is not in the mix as a candidate for the job is Chris Carpenter. Mozeliak said he had had a recent conversation with Carpenter and can see him having more of a role in the organization, but that he is not ready to commit to a full-time position.

Lilliquist had been the pitching coach for all six seasons since Matheny, and actually assumed that role in 2011, replacing Dave Duncan. He had been in the organization for the last 16 years.

Ilsley had been the bullpen coach for five years and had been in the organization for 17 years.

“I do think when you are looking at how we can best support the manager or how we can look at the future of coaching staffs I do think there are some things we can help leverage; better decision making for that,” Mozeliak said. “Part of this is process oriented. A lot of this is giving Mike the right tools.”

Said Matheny, “There’s always the opportunity to push the needle forward.”

Once the coaching positions have been filled, the main focus for Mozeliak and the front office will be to find the elusive “impact” bat he admitted the Cardinals were missing this season.

“When you look at our club I think we have a lot of hitters who can hit 20 (homers) or will hit 20, slightly more, but do we have that impact or more-feared hitter in our lineup? That’s a fair question,” Mozeliak said.

“The goal of our group and our team is to make changes that better our chances. … Ultimately it’s going to come down to ‘how do we better this roster?’

“We understand that our lineup could use a little boost. When you’re looking at how we evaluate our roster, we don’t feel like we are that far off. We certainly agree that something could help it.”

While most of the teams that qualified for the playoffs have home-grown hitters in the middle of their lineup, Mozeliak noted the Cardinals could have had that player too in Oscar Taveras, who was just 22 when he was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic in October 2014.

“He was someone we thought was going to be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter but he’s no longer with us,” Mozeliak said. “When you experience something like that you realize how hard it is to really replace. That’s one of those things as we sit here in 2017 thinking about 2018 It’s tough to fill those kinds of shoes.”

The positives of this year were the performances of rookies such as Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez and Luke Weaver and the unexpected year from Tommy Pham. The Cardinals also expect to get a big boost from the return next season of pitcher Alex Reyes after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

“We don’t want to take this year and not learn from it,” Mozeliak said. “There are certain things we can do differently, certain things that we can grow from.

‘I feel very good about where this organization is based on what we have going on down below. Clearly what we saw going on at Memphis will certainly bode well for our future.
“We want to fix what we have and build on it.”

Some of the other topics which came up during the hour-long session on Tuesday:


* Mozeliak said he did not anticipate any other changes to the coaching staff and that all of the remaining coaches had been asked to return.

* There will be a discussion at some point, Mozeliak said, about whether the club will ask Dexter Fowler to move to left field next season. “We certainly have some flexibility,” Mozeliak said of the outfield situation. “Once the dust settles we’ll work through how we think we can optimize this current roster and how best to augment it as we move forward.”

Mozeliak said he did not recall guaranteeing Fowler anything “other than a lot of money.”

* While Adam Wainwright underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow on Tuesday, Mozeliak said he did not expect any other players needing a surgical procedure coming out of this season.

* The Cardinals will have the 19th pick in the first round of next year’s draft.

* The organization is planning to add a second team in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League, considered the lowest level in the farm system, to give more opportunities for playing time to the young Latin players in the organization.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains