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Cards finalize deal with Miami for All-Star Ozuna

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 officially became a Cardinal on Thursday, one day after the club reached a trade agreement with the Marlins. In exchange for Ozuna, St. Louis sent outfielder Magneuris Sierra and pitchers Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano to Miami, which had been heavily scouting the Cards' system during the clubs' discussions about Stanton.

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 officially became a Cardinal on Thursday, one day after the club reached a trade agreement with the Marlins. In exchange for Ozuna, St. Louis sent outfielder Magneuris Sierra and pitchers Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano to Miami, which had been heavily scouting the Cards' system during the clubs' discussions about Stanton.

Hot Stove Tracker

"There are only so many opportunities you get to acquire these types of players, and we decided that we needed to do something, so we went after that," Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said before returning to St. Louis on Thursday. "We really feel like we're fortunate to be in this spot. We feel like this is the middle-of-the-order type hitter that we've been looking for, and it certainly improves our lineup."

The Cardinals' offense is coming off a season in which it ranked seventh in the National League with 761 runs scored and eighth with a club OPS of .760. They lacked what Mozeliak defined as that "feared hitter" in the middle of the order.

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

That's why, when the Marlins' sale to a new ownership group was finalized in September, the Cardinals almost immediately reached out to let them know they had interest in any three of the team's outfielders -- Stanton, Ozuna and Christian Yelich. Miami preferred to start by discussing Stanton. When that didn't work, Ozuna became the target.

"He's always someone that we've gotten to see a lot of over the years, just being a [Spring Training] neighbor in Jupiter," Mozeliak said. "And whenever I watched him, I was like, 'He could be so good.' I always sort of wondered why he wasn't. What do great players do that other players don't? When they do things, they make it look easy. He always had a quick bat, would hit the ball hard, and I always just sort of wondered why he didn't do more. And clearly, last year he did."

Video: Matheny on Cardinals landing impact bat in Ozuna

Ozuna, 27, had a breakout 2017 season in which he posted a .312/.376/.548 slash line while being named to the National League 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 '17 -- in 159 games. All but two of his starts came in left field, where he was a Gold Glove Award winner.

Ozuna became the third outfielder since 2003 to hit .310 with at least 30 homers and 120 RBIs. He led all NL cleanup hitters with a .548 slugging percentage and .924 OPS, and he finished fourth among all NL players in total bases.

"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."

Ozuna will stay in left for 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, because Ozuna will not become a free agent until after the 2019 season. He's eligible for arbitration this year.

The trickle-down effect continued further, too, as adding another outfielder to the 40-man roster gave the Cardinals additional incentive to trade others. Sierra is now out of the mix, as is Stephen Piscotty, who was traded to the A's on Thursday. The Cards still have a healthy crop of young outfielders on their 40-man roster with Randal Grichuk, Harrison Bader, Tyler O'Neill and Oscar Mercado.

Video: Matheny talks about Cardinals' commitment to winning

The Cardinals also retained several high-ceiling prospects to deal if they decide to address any remaining needs via trade. Acquiring Ozuna cost the club its No. 6 (Sierra), No. 9 (Alcantara) and No. 14 (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: MLB Now discusses Cardinals' acquisition of Ozuna

"We do feel like we were dealing from a strength, but we acquired something we didn't have," Mozeliak said. "Historically, we've always tried to keep our prospects. But to get this type of hitter, we knew we were going to have to give up something that was going to be a little uncomfortable."

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

No Stanton, no problem: Ozuna packs punch

New Cardinal, Pham, Fowler form dynamic trio, according to Statcast
MLB.com @AndrewSimonMLB

Upon acquiring Giancarlo Stanton last week, the Yankees formed what is unquestionably baseball's hardest-hitting duo, with Stanton and Aaron Judge dominating Statcast™ leaderboards in 2017.

But after Stanton exercised his no-trade clause to prevent a deal to St. Louis, the Cardinals kept pushing. What they found instead was an option that shouldn't be overlooked as the club tries to fight its way back to the postseason after a two-year absence.

Upon acquiring Giancarlo Stanton last week, the Yankees formed what is unquestionably baseball's hardest-hitting duo, with Stanton and Aaron Judge dominating Statcast™ leaderboards in 2017.

But after Stanton exercised his no-trade clause to prevent a deal to St. Louis, the Cardinals kept pushing. What they found instead was an option that shouldn't be overlooked as the club tries to fight its way back to the postseason after a two-year absence.

On Thursday, St. Louis officially traded a quartet of prospects to Miami for Stanton's former teammate, Marcell Ozuna. The 27-year-old isn't Stanton, but between him and 2017 breakout artist Tommy Pham, the Cardinals now feature arguably the hardest-hitting pair of outfielders in the National League.

Video: Matheny discusses versatility of Cardinals' outfield

Meanwhile, St. Louis' new projected starting outfield -- Ozuna in left, Pham in center, Fowler in right -- could provide the club with elite offense and solid defense. It also freed up the Cards to trade Stephen Piscotty to the A's for a pair of prospects on Thursday, with Randal Grichuk perhaps on the move as well this offseason.

Pham and Ozuna both are coming off career years, when they ranked fifth and ninth, respectively, among qualified NL hitters in weighted runs created-plus (wRC+), and sixth and 12th in wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs. Underpinning that success were some stellar Statcast™ metrics.

It's not just the flashes of power, although Ozuna in particular had those. Operating in Stanton's massive shadow, he finished fifth in the Majors in homers hit 430-plus feet (13) and tied for seventh in those hit at 110 mph or harder (seven), according to Statcast™. Pham stood out in St. Louis, accounting for five of his club's eight hardest homers and four of its nine longest.

Video: MIA@TB: Ozuna hits his longest homer in Statcast™ era

The 2017 season featured 105 players who were primarily outfielders and produced at least 200 batted balls at the plate. Among that group, both Ozuna and Pham ranked in the top 25 percent in average exit velocity, hard-hit rate (95-plus-mph exit velocity), barrel rate and expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA).

Here is a closer look at each of those Statcast™ metrics:

• Ozuna (90.7 mph) matched his 2016 average exit velocity to trail only Judge, Khris Davis, Stanton, Bryce Harper and J.D. Martinez in this group of outfielders. Pham (89.7 mph) was not far behind, in 13th place. The only other NL clubs with multiple players in the top 20 were the Mets (Yoenis Cespedes 10th, Michael Conforto 19th) and Brewers (Ryan Braun 11th, Domingo Santana 16th).

• In that group, only ex-teammate Christian Yelich put more balls in play with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher than Ozuna (214), who also ranked sixth in hard-hit rate (45.4 percent). Pham (43.4 percent) was 10th in that category, just behind Cespedes and Conforto.

• A barrel is a Statcast™ term for a batted ball with an ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle, typically resulting in extra-base hits. Grichuk -- still a Cardinal for now -- actually topped both Ozuna and Pham by turning 15.7 percent of his batted balls into barrels in 2017 to rank fifth in that group of outfielders, although he also struck out 30.1 percent of the time. Still, Ozuna and Pham tied with George Springer for 25th, with a solid barrel rate of 9.3 percent.

• The Statcast™ metric for a hitter's overall skill shows how St. Louis has set up what looks like an intimidating 2018 outfield.

Video: STL@PIT: Fowler plates Pham with a single in the 5th

Expected wOBA is based on a player's quality of contact -- plus his actual strikeouts and walks -- while giving credit for extra bases. On one hand, those three Cardinals starting outfielders each posted a 2017 wOBA higher than his expected mark, suggesting they may have overperformed to some degree. But even so, each produced a top-notch xwOBA.

Pham (.366) ranked ninth among this group of outfielders, between Springer and Charlie Blackmon. Ozuna (.359) and Fowler (.355) followed closely behind, in 12th and 13th place. That gives the Cardinals three outfielders in the top 15, while no other club has three in the top 30 on that list, pending future transactions -- including the potential signings of free agents such as Martinez (third) and Jay Bruce (20th).

Best combined xwOBA rank for top three OF*
Out of primary OF, min. 200 batted balls in 2017
1. Cardinals: 34 (Pham, Ozuna, Fowler)
2. Yankees: 40 (Judge, Stanton, Aaron Hicks)
3. Angels: 65 (Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun)
4. Dodgers: 96 (Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor)
5. Astros: 106 (Springer, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez)
*Based on 2018 club

• On the defensive side, the Cardinals plan to shift Pham to center -- where he started 30 games last year -- and Fowler to right. It's a decision backed up by Statcast™'s Outs Above Average metric, which had Pham tied for 20th in 2017 at +6 OAA but Fowler down at -9 (and Ozuna at +1).

Video: PIT@STL: Pham dives to make a stellar four-star catch

The move could benefit both players, with Fowler's above-average wheels standing out more in right. While Fowler's average max-effort baserunning sprint speed of 28.2 feet-per-second tied for 31st of 58 qualified center fielders in 2017, it would have tied him for 11th of 52 right fielders.

Still, it's the bats that could make this group -- and the Ozuna-Pham duo in particular -- stand out from the crowd. While the Cardinals didn't land the reigning NL MVP, their deal for Ozuna should provide their lineup with a significant boost going into 2018. 

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

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

St. Louis Cardinals, Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham

Cardinals net Munoz, Schrock for Piscotty

Infielders boost St. Louis' Minor League depth
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Eight months after signing a six-year contract extension that was described by chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. as a way to ensure Stephen Piscotty would be "a fixture in a Cardinals uniform," the outfielder's tenure in St. Louis has come to an end.

The Cardinals, in an effort to continue clearing their outfield surplus, traded Piscotty to the A's on Thursday for Minor League infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Eight months after signing a six-year contract extension that was described by chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. as a way to ensure Stephen Piscotty would be "a fixture in a Cardinals uniform," the outfielder's tenure in St. Louis has come to an end.

The Cardinals, in an effort to continue clearing their outfield surplus, traded Piscotty to the A's on Thursday for Minor League infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock.

Drafted out of Stanford University in 2012 with one of the two compensation picks the Cardinals netted upon Albert Pujols' departure, Piscotty has been the Cards' starting right fielder since he debuted in July 2015. But his fit -- and circumstances -- changed unexpectedly last season.

Video: Lee discusses the Piscotty to A's trade

After signing a $33.5 million contract in April, Piscotty never found much offensive traction. He tried making various changes to his swing and even returned to Triple-A in an effort to reset. Neither offered the jump-start he needed.

A year after hitting .273/.343/.457 with an .800 OPS, 22 homers and 85 RBIs in 2016, Piscotty slashed .235/.342/.367 with a .708 OPS, nine homers and 39 RBIs.

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What's impossible to calculate, though, was how much his personal situation might have affected performance. In May, Piscotty learned that his mother, Gretchen, had been diagnosed with ALS. This trade will give Piscotty the chance to play just miles away from his family in Pleasanton, Calif.

That wasn't the impetus behind the Cardinals' decision to trade Piscotty to Oakland. But it also wasn't ignored.

"In fairness, it's really two-fold," said John Mozeliak, Cardinals president of baseball operations. "One, we look at our outfield, and there's definitely congestion. And clearly, an opportunity to get him closer to home was something we were also thinking about. But you're never making a player trade simply for geographic or sentimental reasons. It had to be something that made sense for us.

Video: OAK@LAA: Schrock robs Revere with diving stop

"There were certainly some opportunities to move him elsewhere, and when you're looking at how to break a tie, clearly that did play into it."

Mozeliak, who spoke to Piscotty about the move, described the outfielder's reaction to the news as "bittersweet."

"He liked being a Cardinal, liked playing in St. Louis," Mozeliak said. "And certainly [he] wanted to prove last year was an outlier."

This wasn't the first time Piscotty's name had surfaced in talks between the two clubs. Just months ago, the Cardinals appeared willing to deal him in a trade for Sonny Gray, who was eventually dealt to the Yankees. Piscotty became even more expendable after the Cards reached an agreement to acquire Marcell Ozuna earlier this week.

Piscotty no longer had a certain starting position in St. Louis, and the Cardinals had an outfield logjam to clear. Other outfielders could still be on the move, Mozeliak acknowledged.

While addressing its outfield clutter, the Cardinals were also able to upgrade their infield depth. Munoz gives the club an above-average defender who can play multiple positions, including shortstop. With Aledmys Diaz no longer in the organization, the Cards had been eyeing ways to protect themselves at that position.

"The scouting reports on him are very strong," Mozeliak said. "We think he's a nice fit."

Munoz, who enters 2018 with Minor League options still remaining, reached as high as Triple-A last season. In 112 games combined between Double-A and Triple-A, the 22-year-old slashed .300/.330/.464.

It was the offensive profile that drew the Cardinals to Schrock, who posted an .801 OPS and a .321/.379/.422 slash line in Double-A last year. He does not have to go on the Cards' 40-man roster immediately, and St. Louis considers him a defensive option at third, second and in the outfield.

"Everywhere he's been, he's hit," Mozeliak said. "When you're looking at all the different things you're trying to do, it's nice to be able to find a couple players that we can just stick right into Double-A and Triple-A and know that they're going to be productive."

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, Stephen Piscotty

Cards end Winter Meetings on a high note

Team seals multiple deals, advances many others during whirlwind week in Florida
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After weeks spent pursuing Giancarlo Stanton, the Cardinals gathered at the Winter Meetings knowing they had to move on but still evaluate which new paths to take.

In the span of four days, they seem to have found their way.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After weeks spent pursuing Giancarlo Stanton, the Cardinals gathered at the Winter Meetings knowing they had to move on but still evaluate which new paths to take.

In the span of four days, they seem to have found their way.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak and his front-office team departed Thursday with multiple deals done and others still possibly in the works. In fact, depending how the next few days transpire, the club may wrap up the majority of its offseason overhaul before the calendar turns to 2018.

Video: Mozeliak on shifting offseason focus to bullpen

Having delayed his flight back to St. Louis on Thursday, Mozeliak completed a pair of trades before heading home. The most impactful was the acquisition of Marlins All-Star outfielder Marcell Ozuna, the impact bat the club sought for the middle of its order. In exchange for two years of control over Ozuna, the Cardinals are parting with Minor Leaguers Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano.

Video: Langosch joins MLB Tonight to break down Ozuna trade

In a related move, the Cardinals also made a swap with the A's. As a way to address the congested outfield, the Cardinals sent Stephen Piscotty to Oakland for Minor League infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock. Both will provide defensive versatility at the upper levels of the Cardinals' farm system. Munoz also takes a spot on the 40-man roster.

These deals followed a pair of free-agent signings that were also made official this week. Starter Miles Mikolas and reliever Luke Gregerson each signed two-year contracts to help augment the club's pitching depth.

What's next?
The Cardinals' winter work isn't over. The top priority now is adding a closer, and the Cardinals accelerated talks related to that search this week. The Rays' Alex Colome remains a trade target. The club has also considered free agent Wade Davis.

Video: BAL@TB: Kiermaier solidifies the save for Colome

It's also possible the team makes additional upgrades to its offense and/or rotation. Talks with Tampa Bay, for instance, could expand to include third baseman Evan Longoria or starting pitcher Chris Archer. And in what would represent an even bolder move, the Cardinals have, according to multiple reports, made an offer to Baltimore for infielder Manny Machado.

Machado has one year remaining before he becomes a free agent.

"Now that we sit here on December 14, we're certainly excited about the club we have, but there are other things that we might do," Mozeliak said. "I think we'll take next week and see where that may lead us. I definitely feel like January [gives us] plenty of opportunity to do other things. I don't leave here feeling like my job is over. I suspect there are going to be some things we explore."

Video: Teams have made formal offers for Machado

Rule 5 Draft
The Cardinals did not take or lose anyone in the Major League portion of Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. They did pluck a pair of young outfielders -- 17-year-old Jean Selmo (Arizona) and 21-year-old Angel Moreno (Tampa Bay) -- in the Minor League portion.

"We wanted to go younger and try to take advantage of guys who may have a little more upside," said John Vuch, director of baseball administration for the Cardinals. "We've got enough Minor League depth that we'd rather go higher risk, higher reward. … Maybe get somebody who has some upside."

Jacob Wilson, an infielder in the Cardinals' system since 2012, was selected by the Nationals in the Minor League phase.

The bottom line
"When you look at the last two years, you can certainly point to areas that didn't go as planned. As we enter now into how we start thinking about '18, there's just a lot to be excited about how this club looks today. And again, we may get more excited about it in time."
--Mozeliak

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 counterpunch 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 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

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

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

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.

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"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