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Cardinals acquire All-Star Ozuna from Marlins

OF Sierra and pitchers Alcantara, Gallen, Castano shipped to Miami
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Rebuffed by Giancarlo Stanton last week, the Cardinals returned to the Marlins' outfield to find another answer in their search for an offensive upgrade.

That pivot brought them to Marcell Ozuna, who the Cardinals believe can fill the middle-of-the-order void they had initially hoped to plug with Stanton. After gaining momentum in trade talks with Miami on Tuesday, the Cards reached an agreement on Wednesday that will bring Ozuna to St. Louis.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Rebuffed by Giancarlo Stanton last week, the Cardinals returned to the Marlins' outfield to find another answer in their search for an offensive upgrade.

That pivot brought them to Marcell Ozuna, who the Cardinals believe can fill the middle-of-the-order void they had initially hoped to plug with Stanton. After gaining momentum in trade talks with Miami on Tuesday, the Cards reached an agreement on Wednesday that will bring Ozuna to St. Louis.

The deal is pending physicals for the players involved, MLB.com confirmed, but could be finalized by the end of the day on Thursday.

Hot Stove Tracker

In exchange for Ozuna, the Cardinals will send outfielder Magneuris Sierra and pitchers Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano to the Marlins, who had been heavily scouting and evaluating St. Louis' system during the clubs' discussions about Stanton. The Cards' preference had been to deal from their two deepest pools of talent -- pitching and outfielders.

"We have a deep system. We had payroll flexibility," said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. "And when you combine those two, that's helpful. And we had defined needs."

Video: Ozuna ready to bring his bat to the Cardinals' lineup

One of those needs was to upgrade an offense that finished the year ranked seventh in the National League with 761 runs scored and eighth with a club OPS of .760. The Cardinals lacked what Mozeliak defined on Wednesday as that "feared hitter" in the middle of the order.

That's a void the Cards are now hoping Ozuna can fill.

"Ozuna is one of those names that you have to have great respect [for], especially as much as we see him, not just through the season, but in Spring Training," manager Mike Matheny said. "[We're] trying to show our fan base the commitment that we have to try and make our team better."

Video: Matheny on Cardinals landing impact bat in Ozuna

Ozuna, 27, just completed a career year in which he posted a .312/.376/.548 slash line while being named to the NL All-Star team for the second time. He hit 37 home runs and collected 124 RBIs -- totals that would have been team highs for St. Louis in 2017 -- while starting 153 games. All but two of those starts came in left field.

Ozuna will likely stay in left with the Cardinals, who plan to use Tommy Pham in center field and Dexter Fowler in right. It's an alignment the Cards can keep for at least the next two seasons, as Ozuna will not become a free agent until after the 2019 season.

The trickle-down effect continues further, too, as adding another outfielder to the 40-man roster increases the likelihood that the Cardinals flip others this offseason. Neither Randal Grichuk nor Stephen Piscotty seem to have an obvious fit moving forward. The Cards also must reevaluate how to clear a logjam of young outfielders that includes Harrison Bader, Tyler O'Neill and Oscar Mercado.

One of those decisions may be reaching a conclusion soon. MLB.com confirmed a report from the San Francisco Chronicle that the A's and Cardinals have had continued discussions about Piscotty. Those trade talks have gained traction here at the Winter Meetings.

Video: Matheny talks about Cardinals' commitment to winning

Though the Cards expected Piscotty to cement himself as part of their core when they signed him to a six-year contract extension in April, his struggles last season forced the organization to reevaluate those plans. A trade to Oakland would offer a homecoming for Piscotty, who grew up in nearby Pleasanton, Calif. It would also plant him closer to his mother, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) earlier this year.

"There's a lot going on," Mozeliak said in hinting that more than one move could be finalized before the end of the week. "Part of our goal in coming down here was to try and change the look of our club. And we're going to keep trying."

That work also includes the continued search for relief help. Though the Cardinals finalized their two-year deal with free-agent reliever Luke Gregerson on Wednesday, they have not stopped looking for other late-inning options. Rays closer Alex Colome continues to be of interest, as is free-agent closer Wade Davis.

Video: MLB Now discusses Cardinals' acquisition of Ozuna

The Cards do still have a depth of prospects to deal from if they determine that's the preferred route to address any remaining needs. Trading for Ozuna did cost the club its No. 6 (Sierra), No. 9 (Alcantara) and No. 13 (Gallen) prospects, but St. Louis did not have to part with top pitching prospects Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Luke Weaver or Dakota Hudson.

Alcantara, who was groomed as a starter during his climb through the Minor League system, arrived in the Majors in September and made eight relief appearances. He features a fastball that can reach triple digits in velocity and an advanced breaking ball.

Sierra made his MLB debut last season as well, making the jump from Class A to the Majors in May. He tallied 19 hits, all singles, in 22 games. Gallen reached Triple-A last season, while Castano hasn't yet pitched above the short-season level.

Video: Zinkie on fantasy impact of Ozuna's move to Cardinals

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Although replicating a memorable 2017 season (37 homers, 124 RBIs, .312 batting average) will still be a tall task, Ozuna should be a better fantasy option with the Cardinals than he would have been with the Marlins. Having posted an outstanding average exit velocity last year (90.7 mph, per Statcast™), the slugger could hit over .290 with at least 30 homers and 95 RBIs in '18. Likely to be a major asset, Ozuna can be selected as early as Round 3 in mixed-league drafts. Conversely, Grichuk and Jose Martinez could struggle to find the necessary playing time for mixed-league consideration with Ozuna joining Pham and Fowler in the Cards' outfield.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals, Marcell Ozuna

Ultimate Cards Fan Pack up for charity auction

Bidding runs until 9 p.m. CT Thursday
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cardinals are auctioning off a complete set of 2017 promotional items and a collection of team-issued hats as part of this year's Winter Meetings charity auction, which runs until 9 p.m. CT on Thursday.

Those items are among dozens of experiences, packages and unique items donated by Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs in this sixth annual charity auction. All monies raised will support the Katharine Feeney Memorial Scholarship Fund, which is being established to support an annual scholarship for a female student pursuing a career in sports management at the University of San Francisco.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cardinals are auctioning off a complete set of 2017 promotional items and a collection of team-issued hats as part of this year's Winter Meetings charity auction, which runs until 9 p.m. CT on Thursday.

Those items are among dozens of experiences, packages and unique items donated by Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs in this sixth annual charity auction. All monies raised will support the Katharine Feeney Memorial Scholarship Fund, which is being established to support an annual scholarship for a female student pursuing a career in sports management at the University of San Francisco.

Feeney, who joined the office of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs in 1977, served as a baseball executive for 40 years. She died unexpectedly in April, just months after retiring.

The Cardinals' contributions to the auction include the "Ultimate Cardinals Fan Pack." The bidding opens at $500, and the winner will receive a Dooney & Bourke Weekender Bag stuffed with all of the promotional items the Cardinals gave away last season. A select number of theme night promotional items will be included as well.

Fans can also bid to win a complete collection of 2018 Cardinals hats. The winner will receive every different style hat worn by the team next season, including those used on holidays and other special dates. This package will also include a home red Cardinals cap autographed by a player of the winner's choosing. The bidding starts at $250.

To view a full list of available auction items, visit MLB.com/wintermeetingsauction. The MLB Charity Auction program is in its sixth year, and since its inception, more than $900,000 has been raised through this initiative.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals

A's reportedly acquire Piscotty from Cards

MLB.com @JaneMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The A's reached an agreement to acquire outfielder Stephen Piscotty from the Cardinals for two Minor Leaguers, sources confirmed to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman late Wednesday night.

Neither club has confirmed the report, and the names of the two Minor Leaguers were not immediately known.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The A's reached an agreement to acquire outfielder Stephen Piscotty from the Cardinals for two Minor Leaguers, sources confirmed to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman late Wednesday night.

Neither club has confirmed the report, and the names of the two Minor Leaguers were not immediately known.

Piscotty, 26, is a Bay Area native and played collegiately at Stanford. He would return home with a controllable contract that takes him through 2022 for $33.5 million with a team option for '23. The homecoming would also allow Piscotty to be close to his mother, Gretchen, a Pleasanton, Calif., resident who was diagnosed with ALS earlier this year.

This isn't the first time Piscotty's name has surfaced in talks between the two clubs; the Cards appeared willing to deal him for Sonny Gray, who ultimately landed with the Yankees at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. He hit .235 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs, playing in just 107 games because of injuries.

The year before, Piscotty totaled 22 homers and 85 RBIs in 153 games, batting .273 and reaching base at a .343 clip.

For weeks, Oakland has vocalized its plans to add an outfielder, which would allow the club to move Khris Davis into a semi-permanent designated hitter role. Piscotty is a versatile option in the outfield, with experience in all three spots, though his primary position is right.

A lefty reliever is also on the A's list, a necessity that would likely come from the free-agent market should they use a trade to complete their outfield project. Jake McGee and Mike Minor are already off the board, but Tony Watson and Boone Logan are among the notable names still out there.

Veteran Francisco Liriano is also a free agent, and other available left-handers include Brian Duensing, Jorge De La Rosa, Zach Duke and former Oakland pitcher Fernando Abad.

"We've had a lot of conversations," general manager David Forst said. "You're seeing, slowly but surely, relievers come off the board, so things are happening. We've spent a good amount of time on that as well."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, Stephen Piscotty

Cards continuing search for bullpen upgrades

Agreement with Gregerson just a start to revamp of relief staff
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though the Cardinals made their two-year agreement with veteran reliever Luke Gregerson official on Wednesday, the team's efforts to bolster its bullpen haven't ended.

Losing Trevor Rosenthal, Seung Hwan Oh, Juan Nicasio and Zach Duke to free agency left what was already a flawed bullpen from 2017 in further limbo. Most glaring was the ninth-inning void.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though the Cardinals made their two-year agreement with veteran reliever Luke Gregerson official on Wednesday, the team's efforts to bolster its bullpen haven't ended.

Losing Trevor Rosenthal, Seung Hwan Oh, Juan Nicasio and Zach Duke to free agency left what was already a flawed bullpen from 2017 in further limbo. Most glaring was the ninth-inning void.

Gregerson has closing experience, but the Cardinals aren't ready to commit to making him a closer just yet. Other pursuits continue. Those include considering free-agent Wade Davis, who saved 32 games for the Cubs last season.

Video: Langsoch on Gregerson signing with the Cardinals

"Historically, it's not been something I've liked to do," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said of wading into the free-agent closer market. "But clearly when you look at last year, the one-run games [lost], we definitely feel we need to ramp up the bullpen. So we're going to try."

Hot Stove Tracker

If the Cards prefer to deal for ninth-inning help, they could still be a match with the Rays, who have dangled closer Alex Colome.

It's experience they're seeking.

"We have our eyes and ears open," manager Mike Matheny said. "You're not seeing winning teams at the end of the season that don't have a legitimate back end of their bullpen, and that's guys who have been there, done that and have had some prolonged success in that position."

One option now off the table is Nicasio, who finished his 2017 season as the Cardinals' closer. On Wednesday, Nicasio agreed to terms on a two-year agreement with the Mariners.

Video: Matheny talks about Cardinals' commitment to winning

Shifting roles

A year after prioritizing both positional and lineup stability, the Cardinals are prepared to enter Spring Training with some roles still unsettled. And that's by design.

The Cardinals have yet to commit to a position for Matt Carpenter, who has spent seasons at first, second and third base during his time in St. Louis. He's preparing to play any of the three again, and there's a likelihood that he'll bounce around defensively during the season.

Moving him between first and third, for instance, would create opportunities for both Jedd Gyorko and Jose Martinez.

"The good news is we have a lot of players who can play [multiple] places," Mozeliak said. "It's a dramatic shift in how we're thinking. But you look at what we have and how they want to be used and how they want to play, and I think [players] are going to welcome that."

Also yet to be determined is how the Cardinals arrange things at the top of the order. They return two leadoff-type hitters in Carpenter and Dexter Fowler, both of whom have stated their preference to hit from that top spot. Fowler started there last season. Carpenter took over in June.

A decision on where the two will hit in 2018 will likely be determined after further conversations with both.

"We have to navigate that and decide what makes us look best," Mozeliak said. "But the nice thing is we have two guys who have great on-base [percentages]. I don't think it's a [spring] competition. I think we'll go with who can do best at X and who can do best at Y."

Staff surprises

After several years of having Willie McGee decline his invitation to join the Major League coaching staff, Matheny acknowledged that it was a surprise this October to find out that the time was finally right for the former Cards outfielder to take the plunge.

"I knew where Willie's kids were, and a lot of times, it's just whether or not the family structure sees it as a viable option," Matheny said. "He shocked me when he said that he had already spoken with his family, and they believe it's time. We're going to be better for it."

Video: Matheny on McGee helping with fielding instruction

McGee joined the staff under the title of Major League coach, and his job duties will be numerous. Matheny intends to use McGee's expertise to assist in baserunning and outfield defense, as well as to have him work with hitters.

"I just believe he's going to be a priceless tool to us," Matheny said.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals

Ozuna acquisition nice counter-punch by Cards

After Stanton's trade rejection, St. Louis nabbed All-Star, left money for closer
MLB.com @feinsand

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Giancarlo Stanton's decision to shun the Cardinals by rejecting a trade to St. Louis last week was a gut punch to John Mozeliak and his front office.

Rather than preparing for the addition of the reigning National League MVP Award winner to the middle of their lineup, the Cardinals were forced to go back to the drawing board in search of a middle-of-the-lineup bat.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Giancarlo Stanton's decision to shun the Cardinals by rejecting a trade to St. Louis last week was a gut punch to John Mozeliak and his front office.

Rather than preparing for the addition of the reigning National League MVP Award winner to the middle of their lineup, the Cardinals were forced to go back to the drawing board in search of a middle-of-the-lineup bat.

"There was a lot invested in that," Mozeliak, the club's president of baseball operations, said of the pursuit of Stanton. "To not get it done, the group rolled up its sleeves and went on to the next. There was a lot of time and energy, and the outcome wasn't what we hoped, so it can be a little tough."

In the end, it might have been the best thing that could have happened for the Cards.

Hot Stove Tracker

On Wednesday, St. Louis agreed to a trade for left fielder Marcell Ozuna, sending a package of prospects to Miami in a deal that could be completed as soon as Thursday. Fresh off a season in which he hit 37 home runs with 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS, Ozuna adds plenty of needed pop to the Cardinals' lineup.

And with an expected salary of $10 million to $11 million for Ozuna in his second year of arbitration-eligibility, a similar season could be a far better value than Stanton, who will earn $25 million in 2018 as part of the 10 years and $295 million remaining on his contract.

Yes, Stanton broke out with an epic 59-homer, 132-RBI season while posting a 1.007 OPS, but those numbers dwarfed his career averages. Prior to 2017, Stanton's career high in home runs had been 37, and his career OPS stood at .896, playing more than 123 games only twice in his six full seasons.

Unless 50-plus home runs per season become the new norm for Stanton -- and there's no guarantee it will or won't -- then Ozuna's breakout year falls in line with the production Stanton gave the Marlins between 2011-16.

Video: Matheny on Cardinals landing impact bat in Ozuna

To get Stanton, the Cards would have had to give up a package of prospects while also committing to more than $250 million in guaranteed money. Ozuna cost them the prospects, allowing them to now turn their attention to another need: closer.

And thanks to the reasonable financial commitment they took on with Ozuna, they'll have plenty of money to address that bullpen spot if they decide to do so via the free-agent route.

"Understand that that was a lot of money being defined over a course of a long period of time," Mozeliak said of Stanton's contract. "When you're thinking about long-term strategy, we looked at that as somewhat unique. What we've always done is if we don't put it there, we'll re-deploy it somewhere else. That's how we'll think through it."

The Cardinals have been rumored to be attached to Rays closer Alex Colome for two weeks, and while that remains a legitimate option for St. Louis, landing him is far from a guarantee given the immense interest in the right-hander following two stellar seasons with Tampa Bay.

If the Cards are forced to look elsewhere, the money they have -- thanks to Stanton's decision to reject a trade to St. Louis -- will allow them to go swimming in the deep end of the free-agent pool, namely for Wade Davis.

"Historically, it hasn't been something I like to do," Mozeliak said when asked about paying big bucks to a closer. "But clearly, when you look at last year, the one-run games, we definitely feel we have to ramp up the bullpen. So we're going to try."

The Cardinals were 24-29 in one-run games last season, and given that they fell four games shy of an NL Wild Card spot, a shift in that record would have altered the course of their season. They've missed the playoffs in each of the past two years, only the second time that has happened since 2000.

"You're not seeing winning teams at the end of the season that don't have a legitimate back end of their bullpen," manager Mike Matheny said. "[Those are] guys who have been there, done that and have had some prolonged success in that position."

Video: Matheny on importance of building a strong bullpen

Davis possesses a slightly longer track record than Colome, though his 79 career saves are five fewer than Colome has notched over the past two seasons. Both have proven their ability to handle ninth-inning duties, something the Cards clearly seek.

Davis is expected to land a deal similar to the four-year, $62 million pact Mark Melancon signed with the Giants a year ago. The Cardinals are in position to pay for his services, something that might not have been the case had Stanton decided to take his talents from South Beach to St. Louis.

"Clearly you're going to have more resources to go elsewhere because you're not putting it on one player or one salary," Mozeliak said of the Stanton effect. "We're going to leverage both [the trade and free-agent markets] and make a decision. We may or may not add; it just depends. Some of it is a little out of our control."

However it plays out, Stanton's decision to spurn the Cards has given them more options this offseason. They already moved to add a slugger -- one who could provide the type of numbers that helped Stanton land his gargantuan contract in the first place -- and can now address the other items on their to-do list.

Sure, sending Stanton to the plate four times every night would have been a joy for Matheny and Mozeliak to watch, but the player had other thoughts. They're over it, and Wednesday's move for Ozuna was their way of showing just how quickly they've moved on.

"I think that just kind of parlayed into, 'OK, now what are we going to do?'" Matheny said. "We're excited about how that will look as we get closer to Spring Training."

The Cardinals should be. They're a better team than they were before the deal, and now that they can look at a variety of options to continue adding to their club, there's even more reason for Cards fans to be excited.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals, Marcell Ozuna

Cards, Gregerson agree to 2-year deal

Veteran reliever also gets vesting option for 3rd year
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cardinals' two-year deal with free-agent reliever Luke Gregerson became official on Wednesday after Gregerson passed his physical. The agreement guarantees Gregerson $11 million and includes a vesting option for a third year.

The signing reunites the Cardinals with a player they selected back in the 28th round of the 2006 MLB Draft, and it gives them another experienced arm to plug into the back end of the bullpen. Two years ago, Gregerson was closing games for the Astros.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cardinals' two-year deal with free-agent reliever Luke Gregerson became official on Wednesday after Gregerson passed his physical. The agreement guarantees Gregerson $11 million and includes a vesting option for a third year.

The signing reunites the Cardinals with a player they selected back in the 28th round of the 2006 MLB Draft, and it gives them another experienced arm to plug into the back end of the bullpen. Two years ago, Gregerson was closing games for the Astros.

"When you look at somebody like Luke, that's what we found attractive about him," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "There are a lot of times that you look at a talented player who has a lot of tools yet struggles in the ninth. And I think in our case, when you look back at last year, our inability to close out games was something that was frustrating, so having someone who has done it before is certainly a value add."

Video: Langsoch on Gregerson signing with the Cardinals

Gregerson never made it to the Majors during his previous stint in the Cardinals' organization. Instead, that debut came with the Padres, who acquired the right-hander as the player to be named to complete a trade that brought Khalil Greene to the Cardinals.

He spent five years with the Padres before pitching for the A's and Astros. He became a free agent after the 2017 season, which was the final year under the $18.5 million contract Gregerson signed with the Astros in December 2014.

"I'm excited for the opportunity to be a part of a winning organization and to go back to the team that drafted me," Gregerson said. "They're a winning team. They always find ways to put guys on the field who are capable of what needs to be done to find themselves back in the postseason. Even though it's been a couple years now, you can see the fight that has been there, and they have just fallen short at the end. I think it just takes a few pieces here and there to put it back together."

Gregerson, 33, labored with Houston this past season, posting a 4.57 ERA and surrendering 13 home runs in 61 innings pitched. But the right-hander has a career 3.02 ERA and a 9.1 K/9 rate over nine MLB seasons. He has averaged 69 appearances per season over his Major League career.

He did undergo recent surgery to have the hamate bone in his left hand removed. Gregerson suffered the injury late in the year while trying to glove a comebacker to the mound. He is expected to be fully recovered by the start of Spring Training.

The addition of Gregerson fills up the Cardinals' 40-man roster, which means they will not be eligible to select a player in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft.

Video: Luke Gregerson's fantasy value in 2018

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)

Gregerson does not immediately jump out as a prime ninth-inning option due to his 2017 performance (4.57 ERA, 1.34 WHIP), but he owns an impressive lifetime 3.02 ERA and logged a closer-esque 10.4 K/9 rate across the past two seasons. With more career saves (66) than any member of the current Cardinals bullpen, the righty should remain on mixed-league draft lists unless St. Louis makes further bullpen moves this winter.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals, Luke Gregerson

Mikolas dishes on 'Lizard King' nickname

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After all the formalities were complete -- a two-year contract signed and questions about his evolution as a pitcher answered -- the conversation with new Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas turned to the topic that still has everyone intrigued.

A lizard? Really?

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After all the formalities were complete -- a two-year contract signed and questions about his evolution as a pitcher answered -- the conversation with new Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas turned to the topic that still has everyone intrigued.

A lizard? Really?

While those who followed Mikolas' time in Japan will find a pitcher who reinvented himself during three standout seasons, others have been transfixed by his nickname: the Lizard King.

"Until I do something worthy of another nickname, I guess it'll have to stick for now," Mikolas said from the Winter Meetings, where he had come to officially sign his contract on Wednesday.

It's a nickname Mikolas was branded with in 2011, after he accepted his teammates' dare to eat a live lizard. At stake was the opportunity to have his Arizona Fall League dues paid for a month.

Video: Miles Mikolas talks his success in Japan

"At that time, a couple hundred bucks, I thought, 'This is a steal for one quick little lizard,'" Mikolas said.

What happened next is still documented on YouTube. After dousing the lizard with Mountain Dew, Mikolas went for it. The lizard went down, a new nickname emerged and Mikolas went on to pitch that afternoon. The episode has been a popular talking point since.

"It's not something I'm ashamed of," Mikolas said. "I was young. It was a funny thing that I did. But hopefully I can do something else that will make people think of my name instead of just my diet."

And, no, Mikolas added, he has not tried another lizard since.

"It's actually really funny," Mikolas said. "My wife can attest that I'm actually a really picky eater for the most part, so going for the lizard was outside my range of comfort."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals

All the wild places Ozuna has parked homers

Just days after they narrowly missed out on Giancarlo Stanton, the Cardinals turned around and reached a deal for that other All-Star Marlins outfielder with some prodigious power: St. Louis has agreed to a trade to acquire Marcell Ozuna from Miami at the Winter Meetings, according to a source.

And while he might not be Stanton (really, who is?) Ozuna is capable of doing some awe-inspiring things to a baseball. He slashed .312/.376/.548 with a career-high 37 homers last year, many of which landed in some truly unexpected places -- and to help Cardinals fans get excited, we've compiled a brief list below.

Winter Meetings interview with Mike Matheny

MLB.com

Q. Mike, kind of reflecting back on where your team was coming into this off-season, how necessary did you see it to add an impact bat to your offense?

MIKE MATHENY: It's been a conversation, obviously, all the way through the season. We had some guys step in and do some pretty impressive things in the middle of our order. When you look at the ask of a young Paul DeJong to step into that role, but also realizing we've been very fortunate in this organization.

For a while where you have a Mark McGwire kind of fill that spot in the order, then you have a Pujols followed by a Matt Holiday, who was that presence. As you watch teams that have sustained success, there's typically a presence in the middle of that lineup. So that has been a focus of this club, still believing that we can develop those style players, and we have some guys that are developing into those kinds of players.

But right now, to put a couple players or a player in that spot is a priority.

Q. Do you think it could end up being a couple players?

Q. Mike, kind of reflecting back on where your team was coming into this off-season, how necessary did you see it to add an impact bat to your offense?

MIKE MATHENY: It's been a conversation, obviously, all the way through the season. We had some guys step in and do some pretty impressive things in the middle of our order. When you look at the ask of a young Paul DeJong to step into that role, but also realizing we've been very fortunate in this organization.

For a while where you have a Mark McGwire kind of fill that spot in the order, then you have a Pujols followed by a Matt Holiday, who was that presence. As you watch teams that have sustained success, there's typically a presence in the middle of that lineup. So that has been a focus of this club, still believing that we can develop those style players, and we have some guys that are developing into those kinds of players.

But right now, to put a couple players or a player in that spot is a priority.

Q. Do you think it could end up being a couple players?

MIKE MATHENY: I think always open. I think you walk before you run, so try to get any kind of piece that fits at this time would be a huge step in the right direction and never closing the door to the potential of even adding to that.

Q. Mike, you can't probably say anything until it's official, but obviously Ozuna's name has come up.

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I've heard.

Q. Any general thoughts on him that you could share even though he's not officially a Cardinal?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, good player. I think our organization did a great job of being very aggressive, even kind of maybe outside our norm, with the talks that happened with Stanton. Those are not a secret. Trying to show our fan base the commitment that we have to try and make our team better.

As you have those conversations, you do start opening up doors, and what else could that look like if it does not come through, which it didn't.

Ozuna is one of those names that you have to have great respect, especially as much we see him, not just through the season, but in Spring Training we've see him quite a bit.

Yelich is another player that's been thrown out there. There's a number of players throughout the league that you have great appreciation for. You watch the way they go about their business and try to position it as if that would be a good fit in your own club.

Once again, we're at that point where, yeah, there's a lot of talks going on. We're at that necessary point of talking through health always, no matter what the player is. It's not just a formality. Always trying to figure out does this player fit with our club? Can you make something work? And also you're always talking about whether there's any health issues that the medical team needs to look at.

So a lot going on, a lot of moving pieces to make any kind of move work.

Q. How do you see your outfield lineup shaking up? You have players that can play different positions out there?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, depending on the pieces we have. I think Tommy Pham did a great job showing his ability to play centerfield. I think it's no secret that Dex can play there. Something to be very aware of and something we're appreciative of is the humility of our players to maybe go to a spot where they haven't been before, or as some of them are recruited to be here to play a certain position, but to understand kind of how our team unfolds and what our need is and try to put the needs of the team above their own. That's hard for any of us to do, but we've had guys that have done that on a consistent basis, guys bouncing from position to position, guys bouncing from different spots in the lineup.

You go in with your ideals of what you would like to see, and you're going to have to be flexible, and I thought our guys have done a great job of that in the past. Some of our better players kind of leading the way with that, which then makes it an easier sell to the younger guys.

But every year, as you bring in new pieces, I think we're all going to have to be very fluid with how it comes together, and it does take special people to handle that and do it in a way that doesn't create issues inside the clubhouse.

Q. Have you personally had that conversation with Dexter?

MIKE MATHENY: We've been in somewhat contact. Once again, you don't necessarily go there too far until you know what all plays out. I think that's a conversation that -- yeah, we've had personally that conversation, even throughout last season, just talking about -- just being real. Talking about where every player goes as just their career progresses and what that could potentially look like. And then you bring in new pieces that you didn't necessarily see coming.

Who would have ever thought we'd bring up a player from A ball last year who's predominantly a centerfielder, and how would that potentially play? And that was something we expected, so there's no reason to have the conversation ahead of time. The same thing goes right now. We just wait and see what happens, what pieces we have, and then have those conversations on the back end.

Q. Mike, bigger picture, every manager will sort of talk up the division they're in. I'm curious it being -- there's no sort of rebuilding team at the bottom in your division, starting over. It's a pretty competitive division. Do you sort of view it that way? Usually there's a team or two trying to start up, but you have five teams that are all right there.

MIKE MATHENY: Strong division, no question about it. Every team we're seeing is making progressive moves to get better and not just be relevant, but to win this division. That's the way we go into it too. We've been fortunate because there are teams, obviously, as you go through different phases, but I don't see any team in our division being in that particular spot. You look at whatever team you want in every one of them. Matching the lineups and whatever arms they have through their staff. Very talented.

Not too many years ago, just a couple years ago, you're looking at multiple teams fighting for those spots in the wild card. It's going to be a strong division for a while.

Q. Mike, when you looked at your lineup last year and considered the changes that could be made for this coming year, what did you think would be the most transformative as changing the look of the club or even the success of the club?

MIKE MATHENY: I think it goes back to that impact bat, whatever we could do to have that presence in the middle of the order that you see in so many of these teams. There's so many, even as you watch teams through the playoffs, almost all the way through, you have a solid lineup, and there's always that group in the middle, the established bat that you kind of supplement and add the other pieces to. So I think that was the one that stood out more than anything else.

Q. Could you see adding two and really changing things?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I don't think that's off the table. I think Mo and Gersh and Bill have been very forward with the fact we'll do what we need to do. There's obviously going to be some lemons to what any organization can do, but the St. Louis Cardinals have been committed this off-season to make the moves possible to help our club take it to another level. Once again, not to compete, not to be relevant, but winning. Winning. That's what most of the teams are here talking about.

What are the pieces that are keeping us from being where we feel we should be? A presence in the middle, whether it's one bat or more, is something that we feel is very important.

Q. What do you think is driving that? Do you think it's the opportunity, the trademark it presents? Do you think it's the financial opportunity that you guys have with the payroll you have? Or do you think it's two years of finishing out of the playoffs?

MIKE MATHENY: I'd say it's the last more than anything else. We've been very accustomed to being a part of October, and that's a -- I don't want to ever lose that. I don't want our guys to ever feel that that's being spoiled. We work very hard to be a team with sustained success here long before I got here and to keep that torch going. What are we doing that's not allowing us to be there, or what can we do to get us back? I think those are great questions to ask.

First and foremost, we always go back to controlling the controllables, which we're going to talk a lot about culture, we're going to talk a lot about the way that we work and the way we improve. We feel those are things we can control.

From a staff, we take the best players we can get, but we also have to be honest evaluators of where we think we can improve, talking about the presence in the lineup and also talking about the need in the back end of our bullpen. Those are things we feel are places where we can improve, plus the things that we can do individually to continue to help our players improve and grow.

Q. Mike, if money is the number one thing in free agency, there have always been a couple of organizations that, I'm sure you heard over the years, the players say I'd like to play for that group, the way they go about their business. Is that still in play, do you think, in today's free agency world?

MIKE MATHENY: You know, I'd like to think so, but bottom line, I don't blame players. A lot of times it comes down to what team shows you the most that they want you, and it's going to come down to an offer. Now, it goes in phases during careers too where guys have been part of maybe a team that hasn't won much, and it's something that they desire or they've been there, lost it; and they want to get back to a team that competes. And then they're going to have to take an analysis of whether or not the team that they're talking to has plans to move in that direction.

Once again, I hope that's something that we're always in the conversation about because I believe it's someplace that we should always be. But all in all, that's always been a big selling point for our organization is the fact that it's not necessarily anything that we as a staff bring as much as what our fan base brings.

It's a unique atmosphere. It's a great place to play. It has a different vibe. Even a year, last year that we fought like we had to, we draw 3.4 million people. Even in front of 40,000 people every night that just live and die with how you do your job. That makes it a great atmosphere, and it does make it a great selling point.

Q. We heard Joe Maddon say yesterday with Chicago that he really stays outs of the business side of it. I'm interested in how hands-on or involved are you with Mike and the guys as far as free agency pickups or sealing the deal?

MIKE MATHENY: I'm as involved as they need me to be, one. And I feel very fortunate they keep me in conversations. I like to learn too. So as we're going through different ideas and possibilities, we're here, we're spending time together, and it's a great opportunity for me to sit with our analytics department and pick their brain. As we're comparing a couple different players, and they're flying through their computer so fast you can hardly keep up with them trying to show me some of the data that supports the moves that we're making because we have some brilliant people upstairs. So understand that side of the game.

And then for them to hear some of the things that we see and then try to put value to that also, I believe it needs to be a collaborative effort. We're fortunate in our organization that it has been that way, and they humor me. They'll slow things down a little bit and speak my language a little better and help me understand where it is that they're going, but I think it opens up doors then for application into what I do.

So then I can take -- we build up that rapport and that relationship to the point of them helping me understand some of the analytics of decisions that I make and then helping me grow in some of the things that we're deficient in and areas where we can improve.

I think any team that is having success right now, you're seeing some of that cohesiveness between the information and then the people and trying to figure out how to maximize both departments.

Q. Does your input in that situation maybe increase if it's a player that you guys play against often? Like a player in the league that you have experience watching, managing against?

MIKE MATHENY: Sometimes it's what I see. Other times, it's also networking and touching base with other -- not just teammates, not just other coaches of potential trade players or free agents; it's talking to some of the support cast, whether it be former trainers or clubhouse people -- anybody that can give us a little insight. Tell us about the person. We've got enough data. Tell us about the player. How will this guy particularly fit?

It's a balance of all of the above. But if you value culture, which we do, and we're not just trying to get everybody that's a clone, but we're looking for people that believe in the sum of the parts that really makes up that whole and how much each individual guy, if he can get outside of himself, can make us better. It's something that we feel, as you talk to some of the experiences they've had in other cities, it can be a very valuable tool.

So we take every resource possible, and the organization has been good about including, not just myself, but the rest of the staff.

Q. As far as getting a back end in your bullpen and you've reached an agreement with Frierson, do you feel you need another arm back there, given who you lost to free agency and what you have in the bullpen?

MIKE MATHENY: Pretty incredible transformation a year ago with Seung-Hwan Oh doing a fantastic job for us, one of the better closers. And Trevor Rosenthal sitting right there, you had an eighth inning guy. And you bring in Brett Cecil and think you're covered on the back end.

Next thing you know, we have to go get a Juan Nicasio. I think that shows you can't get enough. We have our eyes open and ears open. We have a few good young arms that we believe could be an option.

The team is backtracking to us talking about winning. You're not seeing winning teams at the end of the season that don't have a legitimate back end of their bullpen, and that's guys who have been there, done that, and have had some prolonged success in that position.

Q. Would you like experience there? If you're looking for a closer, someone who's done it?

MIKE MATHENY: I think that's part of the equation. I don't think it's the entire story, but I think it does have to go into consideration. I think that you can certainly -- we've seen it. Some of the young power arms that are coming up, you can put them in that spot and give them those opportunities and see what they do with it. That's a pretty tough way to start your season. If you have an opportunity to maybe get a couple arms who have pitched in the back end of the game, not necessarily the ninth, but preferably so, guys who have closed out games. It's a different animal.

I understand the numbers that might not support that as well, but from a humanistic side, it's a different animal, and it's good to have some guys who have been there and done it and had success there.

Q. What has your conversation been like with Matt Carpenter about where he might play?

MIKE MATHENY: We're not making any broad statement about what Matt Carpenter needs to do at this point. I stay in touch with Matt. Most of it is just about him being the kind of player he wants to be, which comes back to, no matter where he would be on the field, it's about athleticism. It's about moving. It's about the quick twitch. It's about first step. It's about strength. It's about speed. It's about the inconsistency in his approach, what kind of hitter he wants to be.

I think it's too premature, without knowing the rest of the pieces of our puzzle, to tell Matt what he should do, except just go get better. He's so driven for excellence anyhow, that that's an easy conversation to have.

Going back to the question earlier, the humility that he's shown over the last several years from being an all star at a position to then be willing to go another. I had him midseason last year telling me, if I needed him to go somewhere else, he'd do that too. It's so rare for a high level player to have that kind of mentality, but it also, I believe, sets the tone for the rest of our club.

When the younger players come up, that they understand that for a team to have the kind of success and to maximize the ability they have, sometimes we have to think outside the box and possibly put a player in a different position than what they would typically be.

But as soon as we get that information and we have a good idea, I think it's good for them to know. I think in December it might not be as important as January. January, I'd like for wherever each of our players is going to be, for them to have a good idea what the expectation is for them coming into the spring position specific, and those conversations will continue to happen. But at this point, it's just get ready to improve yourself as an overall baseball player and thank a guy like that for being available to do whatever we need him to do.

Q. Do you think you start Spring Training with a conversation about him and Dex about leadoff and how to kind of approach that No. 1 spot?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I think as we get closer -- some of those conversations have already happened. Matt, in particular, he gets very offended when we talk about him not being able to hit in a certain spot in the order. It sounds -- and as you said, you would think it really shouldn't work that way, but we can't deny how it played for our club last year and for him in specific.

Once our offense really started hitting its stride, Matt was in the leadoff spot, and that same humility that I talked about with Matt in positions, you can talk about Dex bouncing around in the order. We brought him in here with the idea of being our lead-off hitter, and ended up needing him to hit in a different spot in order for it to be better for the entire club. And I really appreciate how Dex went about that.

I want to hear what they like, what they want too. I think it's crazy not to at least understand what it is that they would like to see, the kind of player that they view themselves as, and then try and move in that direction. But sometimes you have to have those conversations that are just blunt, the fact that this is what our team needs and we need you to fill that spot. These guys have been impressively good about doing whatever the club needs.

Q. Mike, where can we expect to see Ozuna in the lineup?

MIKE MATHENY: Nothing's been done yet. I can't speak on that right now.

Q. Mike, you mentioned the possibility of another bat being on the table. Positionally, is there an easier way for that to work? Obviously, there's a number of third basemen that have been rumored to be available for various teams, things like that.

MIKE MATHENY: I think that any way -- it's amazing conversations that start with other clubs. I enjoy that aspect of these Winter Meetings as well. So much just spitballing is going on. All of a sudden, a name pops up, and someone sends a text in to one of the front office members, and you start thinking how that would apply and what effect it would have. So it's all across the board.

I think the idea is how can we be better, and that's kind of your common statement you're going to hear from every GM, every manager.

I don't think you close the doors. I think you remain very, very open to whatever might happen, whatever might be out there, and then adjust accordingly. I don't think -- I don't think that you'd be doing yourself any favors to close doors at this point and just kind of see what comes across your table.

Q. Do you think philosophically, if you guys did make an acquisition of a big bat via trade, someone who you had control over for a while, would make more sense than a one-year guy?

MIKE MATHENY: I think that's a trend in the game for sure. When you're letting go of cost controlled assets to bring somebody in for a year, you're not seeing -- oftentimes, your team is leaning in that direction when you can go in the other, and I get that. Just trying to understand the economics and the long-term view of not just our organization, but how the rest of the game is seen, how their budgetary restraints and trying to keep control of players as long as they can.

I get that, and I see the value, but every once in a while, I think too you open up that door. Can we bring this guy in? What do we got to do to try to maybe sign him up for a long-term deal? So all those things are always on the table.

Q. What is the value of the meeting you guys had with your staff? Were you guys able to kind of achieve through that or get to know one another? What were some of the kind of conversations you had and things that you guys did?

MIKE MATHENY: Just two full days of meetings kind of, one, getting everybody together. Some introductions needed to be made. Excited about our staff, excited about adding some new pieces, bringing back some older pieces. But just the idea of communication, making sure everybody, first and foremost, understood this is your role. We had guys that I wanted to make sure they all heard.

I've said this about Willie McGee a couple times, that I just can't say enough about. He's going to be serving multiple roles for us in the fact that we'd be crazy not to use him as an assets with John Mabry and Bill Miller on the offensive side. We're going to need him to help out our base runners and base stealers. His priority will be with helping our outfielders. And with the young outfielders we have, I just believe he's going to be a priceless tool to us.

Obviously, getting Jose Oquendo back into the mix, and we all understand the kind of coach he is, the kind of third base coach as well as infield instructor.

Just making sure we understand the on-field, but also what the Spring Training responsibilities are, and also making those contact points with the players. These are your guys. These are things they could probably use maybe a little guidance and direction, whether it's some advice for some of our base stealers. That's a contact for Willie. And just all across the board to make sure that their open lines of communication start this early in the off-season.

Q. Mike, given the amount of information in the game today, do you think the modern day player understands the game any better than players in previous generations?

MIKE MATHENY: I think the modern day player understands the modern day game better. You just have to adjust and adapt. I think our guys are much more in tune with the analytics. They weren't relevant in previous generations. So I think they'd be doing themselves a disservice.

I know our guys are understanding the TrackMan data better. They want that information in, and it's accessible to them. Many of these guys are hitting in facilities that will have hit tracks that's talking to them about their launch angle. The TrackMan data that talks to them about their exit velocity, those sort of things are just commonplace conversations anymore.

We're starting to see that almost as a necessity as we train to make sure we're not just going through repetitions, but we're going through quality repetitions, and making sure that what they are wanting to do, if they're wanting to improve their power, there's probably some metric that's they're going to have to follow to get that better chance of that happening.

So much like front office and clubhouse staff, how that's kind of integrated, I think the players are also understanding the value. So we're making those conversations happen with our front office personnel to where the players see this as a resource, not just to the coaches, but also an open resource to the players.

Q. Are you surprised that Willie was ready to commit to a major coaching job and even Jose coming back? At what point did you kind of learn of their interest?

MIKE MATHENY: I knew things were heading in that direction with Jose, even during the season last year, but Willie was a surprise for me. First and foremost, I applaud our guys, and anybody that could, should be in the game, when they make a choice to be more relevant at home, that's something I deeply respect because I know almost all of them would love to be in uniform, but when they make that sacrifice, especially in those pivotal years in their kids' lives where they prioritize and make that family their focus at that time.

So, yeah, it surprised me that -- I knew where Willie's kids were, and a lot of times, it's just whether or not the family structure sees it as a viable option. So I was extremely happy. I've thrown it at Willie almost every year, and I just kind of anticipate the same answer; and he shocked me when he said that he had already spoken with his family, and they believe it's time. Just have great respect of how that methodical process had developed. We're going to be better for it.

Q. You haven't heard on Mike Maddux yet, but can you describe the conversations you've had with him and how you think he's going to impact your staff?

MIKE MATHENY: A guy that's seen it all, whether it's internally, family-wise or some of the staff. Just look where he just left and the kind of talent he had. He's a guy who's helped develop some Cy Young style pitchers. For us, I think, it's going to be a great voice to some of these young talented players as you look at the development of Carlos Martinez, there's a whole other level there. And the baseball world really hasn't even seen Alex Reyes yet, who we're probably going to have to go a little slow with this year, but he should be a very important piece to what we do to go along with some of the more established.

But you talk about a Luke Weaver and you talk about the development of a Flaherty, and you want that voice to be coupled with the ace style leadership of an Adam Wainwright. When you have a pitching coach and a very successful veteran pitcher that can both be voices to these young players, it's very fertile ground for them to capitalize and maximize the potential that they have to develop.

Q. It wasn't very long ago that lineups were basically the same every day. If I hit fifth, I hit fifth. Today's player, whether it's the analytics and whether it's a matchup thing, certainly a lot of structure has changed over the years. Is there an awareness now that you might not be a 3 hole hitter? You might not be a 5 hole hitter. To win this game tonight, we might be doing more than I would have done a generation or two ago.

MIKE MATHENY: And I get the importance of consistency. I think every manager that has sat up here would like to tell you, I'd love to write eight names in for 150 games, and they'll line up exactly how they should and how you think it should look, and you just let it roll. That would be really nice, but that's not the game that we're in. It's more how the pieces come together. And there should be a couple spots that are pretty solid.

I think it comes back to -- and we've mentioned it a couple times -- it's almost changing the mindset. If we can get outside -- it's hard to do because everything we see externally is telling us it's kind of about us and our numbers. But if we know collectively we're going to have a good chance for success, we have to kind of separate from some of that to the point where what's better for us as a club? If guys cannot take such ownership to necessarily a position or necessarily a position in the order, it's going to help our overall chance of success, which, to me, when you buy into that, a natural byproduct is going to be that individual success, but you're going to be part of a winning club. You're going to be part of a winning experience that, once you go through that, you'll never want to go back to anything different.

So I think it's kind of rewiring, and we try and do that through conversations like this and through conversations that we'll have throughout Spring Training to try and help guys see what we believe it looks like to be part of a winning culture, and part of that is not taking such ownership to things that pertain only to you.

Q. Mike, how about your initial reaction to Stanton?

MIKE MATHENY: First of all, as I said earlier, I was just very impressed the fact that we were involved in those conversations. That's a big step for our organization when you start talking about that kind of commitment. So I was excited to think about, which I think it was just that step forward that our ownership was making to say, listen, St. Louis Cardinal fan base, we're going to be relevant this winter, and this is going to be something that we're taking very seriously. We know that we can get better. We're willing to step up and make our best step forward.

Unfortunately, that didn't work, but I think that just kind of parlayed into, okay, now what are we going to do? We're excited about how that will look as we get closer to Spring Training.

Q. Could you talk about the usage of Miles Mikolas, and if you have a chance to meet him today.

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I met Miles briefly. He was coming up to do his official meet with the front office while I was heading to another meeting. I've been in contact with him, just to explain to him how we view his potential role. We look at him as a starter. Been very excited of what we've seen in him in Japan and how great of a job he's done there. Lines up really well with what we see as a potential starter for our club.

So for him to prepare to come in and compete for that spot and realize there's some great opportunity there. One of those guys that it's a great story of what he was able to do with his career by going over to Japan and pitching the way that he has. Hopefully, that translates into success over here for a long time.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals

Cards pleased with progress on Day 2

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Day 2 of the Winter Meetings neared an end Tuesday, the Cardinals noted a sense of optimism that sufficient groundwork has been laid to execute a trade for their desired offensive upgrade in the coming days.

"We're not at the goal line. But we've made progress," general manager Michael Girsch said. "These days are ebb and flow. Conversations come and then die quickly, then new ones come. But we do feel like we're optimistic that we're moving in the right direction on a couple things."

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Day 2 of the Winter Meetings neared an end Tuesday, the Cardinals noted a sense of optimism that sufficient groundwork has been laid to execute a trade for their desired offensive upgrade in the coming days.

"We're not at the goal line. But we've made progress," general manager Michael Girsch said. "These days are ebb and flow. Conversations come and then die quickly, then new ones come. But we do feel like we're optimistic that we're moving in the right direction on a couple things."

That's not a guarantee, Girsch cautioned, that the Cardinals will depart the Winter Meetings with another item officially checked off their to-do list. But there is an increasing sense that the club could return to St. Louis with the framework for a deal in place, just as it did a year ago with free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler.

Hot Stove Tracker

"It seems like when we talk about getting things done at the meetings, a lot of times they bleed over a few days after," Girsch said. "I feel like there's momentum for us internally to feel like we've gotten something done or are very close to getting something done, but … I'm not promising anything by noon Thursday when I get on the flight home."

The Cardinals continue to focus their attention on the trade market, with Girsch describing free agents as "secondary" options at this point. And their preference remains to target players over whom they'd have multiple years of control. Marlins outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich continue to interest the organization.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak wouldn't rule out trading for a player whose contract expires at the end of next season. But he also acknowledged that it's far from ideal to simply punt the Cardinals' search for a long-term solution to next winter.

"For us to chase something," Mozeliak said, "we want to feel like it's going to be more impactful."

That could temper interest in infielders Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson, both of whom have been loosely connected to the Cardinals.

In the past, the Cardinals have gambled on short-term commitments, believing that getting a player to St. Louis could sell the organization as an ideal permanent fit. It worked on Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Matt Holliday.

But the Cardinals did not have similar success two years ago with Jason Heyward, and they're aware that even a positive short-term experience in St. Louis may not outweigh the lure of a more lucrative contract elsewhere. That's where acquisition cost comes in.

"In order to make a trade like that, we'd have to assume that we weren't going to re-sign the player and be comfortable with the trade assuming we won't," Girsch said. "You have to get your head around it that way, or you're just setting yourself up for disappointment or putting yourself in an awkward spot when you go to negotiate and you feel like you have to sign him. It's just not a good place where you make a deal assuming a second thing is going to happen."

While landing another hitter continues to be a priority, the Cardinals have continued parallel conversations related to pitching upgrades. However, that might not necessarily include the addition of a closer. That's because the Cardinals believe Luke Gregerson, whose two-year deal is expected to be finalized this week, could fill that ninth-inning void.

Video: Langsoch on Gregerson signing with the Cardinals

"I would say we're looking for bullpen upgrades," Girsch said. "That could be a closer. That could be something else."

The club has reached out to some of its own free-agent relievers, including Juan Nicasio, and it's exploring the trade market for possible upgrades as well. Girsch downplayed the Cardinals' interest in signing a free-agent closer such as Wade Davis or Greg Holland.

"We're still sort of watching, discussing if we can get something else done," Girsch said. "There's some movement in that [reliever] market, but not a ton. There hasn't been much clarity."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals

Stanton praises St. Louis' 'winning-first culture'

Slugger explains reason for agreeing to trade to Yankees
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After monopolizing Hot Stove headlines for weeks, Giancarlo Stanton commanded one last wave of winter attention on Monday as he slipped on a pinstripe jersey while being officially introduced as a Yankee on the first day of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

The image created one final sting for the Cardinals, who, until three days ago, were holding out hope that a similar scene would play out under the shadow of the Gateway Arch. But Monday's press conference offered some answers and insight, particularly as it applied to Stanton's decision to decline trades that would have sent him to the Cardinals or Giants.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After monopolizing Hot Stove headlines for weeks, Giancarlo Stanton commanded one last wave of winter attention on Monday as he slipped on a pinstripe jersey while being officially introduced as a Yankee on the first day of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

The image created one final sting for the Cardinals, who, until three days ago, were holding out hope that a similar scene would play out under the shadow of the Gateway Arch. But Monday's press conference offered some answers and insight, particularly as it applied to Stanton's decision to decline trades that would have sent him to the Cardinals or Giants.

Most notably, Stanton revealed that the Marlins engaged both teams in trade talks despite knowing all along that they were not one of his preferred destinations.

Stanton confirmed that he met with Marlins chief executive officer Derek Jeter early in the offseason to discuss his future with the organization. He first tried to persuade Jeter to add pieces to Miami's big league team. Once it was clear that new Marlins ownership had different plans, Stanton provided Miami with a list of clubs for which he would waive his no-trade clause. Neither the Cardinals nor Giants were on it.

The Marlins spoke extensively to both organizations anyway, and they went deep enough into the process that they had the framework for trades in place with both clubs. At that point, Stanton agreed to meet with members from both clubs.

"I really just wanted to learn what another organization is like," Stanton said. "All I've experienced is the Marlins and basically one way of going about things. So I wanted to see how other organizations went about their business and how the city and everything would appeal to me if that were a way I wanted to go."

Video: Morosi discusses Cardinals moving on from Stanton

Stanton's meeting with the Cardinals was held on Dec. 1, with Cards chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and general manager Michael Girsch in attendance. Though the Cardinals arrived in Los Angeles knowing that Stanton was still not ready to waive his no-trade clause, they welcomed the chance to try sell him on the city and its proud franchise.

Hot Stove Tracker

"I don't think we had the sense that it was a non-starter," Mozeliak said on Monday. "I think we went out there with optimism. We thought what we were selling or trying to explain to him was an exciting place to play. Even leading up to it, you would hear player comments on playing in St. Louis, so it wasn't as if we were making this up. We still feel like it's a desirable place to be, and unfortunately, it wasn't a place he wanted.

"I think in hindsight we were under the impression that it was still something where he would give us real consideration. I definitely felt like after that meeting that it was sincere. But perhaps it was just not meant to be and maybe it was never meant to be."

Stanton praised St. Louis' pitch -- "It's a winning-first culture… a great organization," he said on Monday -- but that didn't change his mind. Pressed further about why the Cardinals lacked appeal, Stanton said the he felt other clubs were positioned to win sooner.

That was further validated by the fact that the four clubs Stanton told the Marlins he would consider (the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and Astros) were also the last four teams playing in October.

"Historically, we've been a part of that group," Mozeliak said. "But for two years we haven't made the postseason, and perhaps that's how he views it."

A week after their face-to-face meeting, the Cardinals received final word that Stanton would not accept a trade to St. Louis. The National League's reigning Most Valuable Player Award winner declined the Giants' offer on the same day. Within 24 hours, a deal was in place to send Stanton to the Yankees.

"I was open to listening to [the Cardinals and Giants], but those were not my teams," Stanton said. "Those are great people. They were great meetings [with] great organizations and culture there. But that just wasn't the fit for me."

Though disappointed by the slugger's decision, Mozeliak said he did not regret the pursuit.

"I think you're frustrated that you didn't get it done, but I think the effort and the energy was well worth it," Mozeliak said. "I think it shows that ownership is willing, for the right player, to show that kind of commitment. In a lot of ways, I take a lot of pride that we were able to get that far. But in the end, we didn't get it done, so nobody is patting me on the back for it."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals, Giancarlo Stanton

Simmons misses on Hall election by one vote

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though he remains one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball history, Ted Simmons, whose 21-year career included time with St. Louis, Milwaukee and Atlanta, was once again unable to garner enough support to earn a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were the only individuals considered by the 16-member Modern Baseball Era committee to be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots cast. That was the required threshold for induction into the Hall of Fame next July. Simmons received 11 votes, falling just one shy of the 12 need for election.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though he remains one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball history, Ted Simmons, whose 21-year career included time with St. Louis, Milwaukee and Atlanta, was once again unable to garner enough support to earn a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jack Morris and Alan Trammell were the only individuals considered by the 16-member Modern Baseball Era committee to be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots cast. That was the required threshold for induction into the Hall of Fame next July. Simmons received 11 votes, falling just one shy of the 12 need for election.

Simmons' career stats

Simply having his candidacy revisited, however, was notable for Simmons, who had previously lasted just one year on Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot. He dropped off after receiving 3.7 percent support (17 votes) in 1994.

Video: CHC@STL Gm2: Ted Simmons throws first pitch

Such brief consideration was surprising given the numbers and accolades amassed by Simmons during his career. He finished his career with 2,472 hits -- including 483 doubles and 248 home runs -- to go with a .285 average and 1,389 RBIs. Simmons was an eight-time All-Star and landed among the league's top 10 players in batting average six times.

At the time of his retirement, Simmons led all catchers in career hits and doubles. He ranked second in RBIs (behind Yogi Berra) and second in total bases (behind Carlton Fisk). Simmons received MVP votes in seven different seasons and finished as high as sixth in the voting in 1975.

Simmons part of '80 Meetings Cards-Brewers blockbuster

It's widely believed that Simmons would have received a longer look from voters two decades ago had he not played in the same era as Hall of Fame catchers Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Fisk.

Simmons played the first 13 years of his career with St. Louis, where he was a six-time All-Star and slashed .297/.365/.454 with an .819 OPS. As a Cardinal, Simmons caught two no-hitters and finished with a .300 batting average seven different times.

Video: PHI@MIL: Simmons on the Brewers' special 1982 team

He did so again with the Brewers in 1983, which was the third of five seasons Simmons spent in Milwaukee. Simmons ended his career having caught 122 shutouts (eighth-most all-time). He hit 20 home runs six times and drove in at least 90 eight times.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals