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The world does not tend to neatly divide itself into winners and losers. For the last two seasons, not even baseball games — with a set length and an objective score at the end — are uniformly so clean, owing to MLB’s health-and-safety-adjacent tiebreaker rules which have made extra inning games into a matter more of random chance than used to be the standard.

And yet as the end of the year approaches, it takes relatively little consideration to break up the key personalities around the St. Louis Cardinals into those categories. What was a stupendous and career-advancing year for some (Edmundo Sosa, Luis García, Jake Woodford) collapsed into frustration and potentially even regression for others (Jordan Hicks, John Gant, Justin Williams).

None of those players make the cut, however, for the lists of biggest winners and losers in a year that provided ample opportunity to grow in either direction.

Winner: Nolan Arenado

Arenado’s year began with an escape from the dysfunctional madhouse at Coors Field that tacked on an extra $15 million in guaranteed money for his trouble. After years of behind the scenes flirtation, he flexed the muscle available to him and all but engineered his own arrival in St. Louis.

All he did after his arrival was tie the legendary Mike Schmidt’s record for most consecutive Gold Gloves by a third baseman with his ninth, win a record fifth Platinum Glove award, and appear in the postseason for only the third time in his career.

He also started the All Star game in Denver, where he received a riotous reception from the fans and was greeted not as a star who abandoned a team but rather as a returning, conquering hero. His final opt-out decision looms at the end of 2022, and the branches from that choice will require time to evaluate. In 2021, though, every stone on which he stepped was part of the right path.

Loser: Paul DeJong

In many ways, 2021 is easy to write off for DeJong’s backers. He struggled through a bout with COVID in 2020, and just as he was starting to feel more like his old self, was hit by a pitch which fractured his ribs and left him dealing with a compromised core for the majority of the season.

Still, shortstop was meant to be locked down, and 2021 showed that it’s anything but. DeJong’s offensive output has declined in each of the four seasons following his breakout rookie campaign, and confidence in his ability to find himself was low enough that the club sought reinforcements on the trade market at the deadline and had DeJong on the bench for its playoff game.

He has two remaining guaranteed seasons left on his contract and will need to show a great deal in each to prove that he can be a part of the team’s future.

Winner: Oliver Marmol

To be a manager in the Major Leagues just three months after you’re eligible to be President of the United States is something that very few people have achieved. Marmol proved himself to be an essential part of the coaching staff throughout the 2021 season, working to bridge gaps between hitting coaches speaking one language to hitters who might not have been quite on the same wavelength.

When the manager’s job came unexpectedly open in October (more on that to follow shortly), there wasn’t so much a job search as a coronation. Marmol’s availability made the decision to make a switch less about who might be available on the market and more about whether Oli himself could handle the reigns.

There is every reason to believe he can, and before anyone might have predicted, he now holds the fulcrum of the club’s future in his hands.

Loser: Mike Shildt

It may not be fair to label a guy a “loser” who helmed the longest winning streak in club history months after setting off baseball’s Sticky Stuff Rebellion and doing his damndest to work through a schedule with a pitching staff that was itself stuck together with, at times, little more than duct tape.

And yet Shildt, who received votes for Manager of the Year in each of the three full seasons he was in charge, departs with the shortest tenure of any full-time St. Louis skipper since the 1970s. He interviewed for the top job in San Diego that eventually went to Bob Melvin but didn’t receive much consideration in either Oakland or with the New York Mets. He eventually took a position in the MLB Commissioner’s office, though it would not be a shock to see him haunting dugout steps in either Baltimore or on the south side of Chicago in 2023.

Winner: John Mozeliak

Few people alive might be able to say “I told you so” with the look on their face better than the president of baseball operations, who saw each of his moves spun from trampled barn straw into gold. Arenado was gangbusters, the rebuilt bullpen and reinforced rotation got the club to the playoffs, and when Shildt even subtly attempted to assert his authority and presence both to the press and behind closed doors, there can be no doubt who emerged victorious from that power struggle.

Loser: Mozeliak

…and yet, by maneuvering the way he did, and making the choices he made regarding everyone who wears a uniform, there can be no doubt that he’s ratched up the pressure on himself to its highest level since taking over in 2007. The Cardinals are now 10 full years without a title, an eternity for a franchise that considers itself among the game’s elite.

There’s nowhere for Mozeliak to hide, and no one left to shoulder the blame should the 2022 Cardinals not contend for a title. He’s knocked over all the fall guys now, and should next year’s team step any direction but forward, it may well be time to come at the organization’s now-undisputed king.