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Reyes key to Cards' pitching plans, role TBD

Top prospect's innings will be monitored in return from surgeries
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- While the Cardinals consider who might fit where as they fill a rotation and build a bullpen for 2019, they remain open to utilizing Alex Reyes in a number of roles -- or perhaps a hybrid one.

Reyes has logged just four big league innings for the Cardinals since ascending to the Majors in the second half of 2016. And though he'll return next year having had both his right elbow and right shoulder surgically repaired since then, the 24-year-old right-hander remains the top prospect for an organization that still believes in his star potential.

ST. LOUIS -- While the Cardinals consider who might fit where as they fill a rotation and build a bullpen for 2019, they remain open to utilizing Alex Reyes in a number of roles -- or perhaps a hybrid one.

Reyes has logged just four big league innings for the Cardinals since ascending to the Majors in the second half of 2016. And though he'll return next year having had both his right elbow and right shoulder surgically repaired since then, the 24-year-old right-hander remains the top prospect for an organization that still believes in his star potential.

How the Cards will utilize Reyes next season remains fluid but also flexible.

There will be limitations on Reyes' usage given his lack of baseball activity over the past two years. He'll come into camp prepped to be a starter, but under a modified program. The Cardinals will see how Reyes responds to the buildup process before considering him for one of three likely spots.

Reyes can pitch his way back into the rotation. He could fill a need in the bullpen. Or Reyes may start the year in the Minors to serve as ready rotation depth.

"I do think that's going to be one of those wait-and-see [approaches]," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said at last week's Winter Meetings. "Wait and see how he is throwing, see how he's reacting, see how he feels physically, and then determine if we're going to put our foot on the gas a little more or not."

Deciding how to divvy up Reyes' innings over the course of a full season will also be part of the calculus.

"That's certainly part of what we have to figure out -- how much we can use him and when we want to use those innings and what role they fit best in," general manager Michael Girsch said. "Are we going to have him throw 200 innings next year? No, probably not. But is there a magic number, and do I know what that magic number is as I sit here today? No. It's going to depend on how he feels and where he's at."

If Reyes can return to the form that helped distinguish him as one of baseball's top prospects (No. 36 overall per MLB Pipeline), his return could serve as an X-factor for the club. There has already been discussion within the organization about what the back end of the bullpen could look like with him as a weapon. And Reyes hasn't been ruled out as a potential candidate to close.

This will all, of course, be dictated by health. Reyes has endured a pair of setbacks over the past two years, and there is no certainty as to how he'll respond now coming back from a second surgery.

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.

St. Louis Cardinals, Alex Reyes

The stats say: Schrock poised to take off in '19

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

One great feature on MLB Pipeline is the prospect stats tool. In addition to offering helpful data on specific performances through all the basic, commonly-used stats, it's become an especially valuable resource for doing deeper dives into players' strengths and weaknesses.

Specifically, the 'Advanced search' tool allows for a highly detailed and customizable look inside specific players' performances and how they compare to others throughout both the Minors and big leagues.

One great feature on MLB Pipeline is the prospect stats tool. In addition to offering helpful data on specific performances through all the basic, commonly-used stats, it's become an especially valuable resource for doing deeper dives into players' strengths and weaknesses.

Specifically, the 'Advanced search' tool allows for a highly detailed and customizable look inside specific players' performances and how they compare to others throughout both the Minors and big leagues.

So, with the offseason now in full swing, we thought that we'd begin a new series using the aforementioned stats tool to take a deeper dive into certain players' 2018 seasons as a means of forecasting future success.

The goal in this first installment is to identify hitters who have the potential to make developmental strides in 2019. That could mean a full-blown breakout campaign for some players, while for others it could simply mean a return to form after a down year.

In the Minor Leagues, distinguishing types of contact is not a perfect science -- for example, some official scorers might label a line drive as a fly ball and vice versa. So, for the sake of consistency, we'll mostly be looking at line-drive and fly-ball rates, or a combination of the two, for this article. Pop-ups are not factored into the fly-ball rates, and please keep in mind that these numbers represent raw data and have not been properly adjusted for league and/or park factors.

Luis Carpio, 2B/SS, Mets' No. 17
Carpio's .219 average was the fifth worst among qualified hitters in the Class A Advanced Florida State League last season. He did, however, hit a career-high 12 homers and 21 doubles in the pitcher-friendly league, and there are quite a few signs that the 21-year-old is in store for more success moving forward. Specifically, Carpio had a surprisingly low .242 batting average on balls in play last season even though 52.2 percent of his contact was either a fly ball or line drive. He also struck out a reasonable 18.4 percent clip, had an equally reasonable 9.4 percent swinging-strike rate and walked 9.3 percent of the time.

Yu Chang, SS/3B, Indians' No. 6
Chang had a solid first Triple-A campaign by all standards, slashing over .256/.330/.441 over 127 games in the International League at age 22. And while he's never really hit for a high average as a .251 hitter in more than 500 Minor League games, Chang has long shown that he can drive the baseball to all fields using a combination of plus bat speed, top-hand-led barrel control and a swing that features good extension through contact. Last season, 57.6 percent of Chang's contact was a line drive or fly ball, a mark that ranked tied for second among all Top 30 prospects (with at least 300 BIP) and furthered a trend that's followed him during his rise through the Minors.

Video: Top Prospects: Yu-Cheng Chang, SS, Indians

Isan Diaz, 2B/SS, Marlins' No. 9
After joining the Marlins in the offseason blockbuster that sent Christian Yelich to Milwaukee, Diaz totaled 13 home runs, 41 extra-base hits and produced a .232/.340/.399 line over 119 games between Double-A and Triple-A. While Diaz's ability to drive the ball out of the park to all fields remains one of his strengths, his fly-ball rate has hovered around 29 percent in the past two seasons -- well below the 39.7 percent mark he posted back in 2016, when he connected on a career-high 20 home runs. The good news is that the 22-year-old's plate discipline as well as his feel for using the entire field has remained steady during his rise through the Minors, so the ingredients seemingly are there for Diaz to make strides offensively in 2019.

Jeter Downs, SS/2B, Reds' No. 7
The 2017 Competitive Balance A pick (No. 32 overall) showed a serious knack for lifting the ball in his first full season en route to 13 home runs and 23 doubles. His 33.2 percent fly ball rate was the 10th-highest among Top 30 prospects who had at least 350 BIP in 2018, and he also posted a solid line-drive rate of 17.5 percent. The fact that he has some swing and miss to his game (19.7% K%) and hits a lot of popups (16.6 percent) highlights Downs' room for growth, so improvement in those departments could very well prompt an uptick in power from the 20-year-old middle infielder.

Lucas Erceg, 3B, Brewers' No. 4
At face value, Erceg underwhelmed in his first Double-A campaign by hitting .248/.306/.382 with 13 home runs over 508 plate appearances. His strikeout and walk rates both improved, though, and he even drove the ball in the air more frequently compared to his first full season. The left-handed hitter's combined line drive-fly ball rate of 54.1 percent was 10th-best among Top 30s with at least 350 BIPs and suggests that the quality of his contact might translate well in the Majors even if the results currently aren't there, and there are some evaluators who believe Erceg will earnestly tap into his plus raw power as he learns to turn on the ball.

Video: Top Prospects: Lucas Erceg, 3B, Brewers

Santiago Espinal, IF, Blue Jays' No. 23
Toronto acquired Espinal from the Red Sox for Steve Pearce back in June, in the middle of the 24-year-old infielder's breakout campaign. He would ultimately hit .297/.356/.444 with 43 extra-base hits including 10 home runs over 124 games, finishing the year in Double-A. Espinal produced a line drive or fly ball in 44.4 percent of his 518 plate appearances in 2018, and that number was the highest among qualified Top 30 prospects. 56.7% of his BIP was either a line drive or fly ball, the second-best among Top 30 prospects with at least 350 BIP, yet his .412 average on such contact was the 10th-lowest mark. Factor in his solid strikeout and walk rates (12.9 and 7.3 percent, respectively) and the fact that he uses the entire field well, and a case can be made that Espinal is merely scratching the surface of his underrated potential.

Jake Rogers, C, Tigers' No. 12
Few hitters elevated the ball last season better than Rogers, who hit a line drive or fly ball nearly 60 percent (59.8) of the time when he put the ball in play That translated to 17 homers over 99 games in his first Double-A season, though it came at the cost of a .219 average and a career-worst 27.5 percent strikeout rate. Making more contact should result in even more over-the-fence power in future seasons for the 23-year-old, and along with his plus defense, gives him a realistic floor as an everyday big league catcher in the mold of Mike Zunino.

Video: Tigers prospect Rogers on the Arizona Fall League

Brent Rooker, 1B/OF, Twins' No. 7
Productive first baseman in the Minors are all too often overlooked, if only because so many prove to be Quad-A types or ultimately have to take a back seat to an even more productive incumbent. But a deeper dive into Rooker's 2018 campaign suggests reason to be bullish on his future. The Twins' Competitive Balance Round A pick from the 2017 Draft moved up to Double-A for his first full season and finished second in the Southern League in home runs (22) and tied for first in doubles (32). Specifically, 56.6 percent of Rooker's batted balls were line drives or fly balls -- third-best among Top 30s with at least 350 BIP -- and 14.8 percent of those were extra-base hits

Keibert Ruiz, C, Dodgers' No. 2
As MLB Pipeline's No. 39 overall prospect, Ruiz is perhaps the most notable name on this list. He proved to be a highly advanced hitter as a 19-year-old in Double-A last season, slashing .268/.328/.401 with 12 homers over 101 games. Hitting from a pronounced crouch, Ruiz is adept at using his lower half and quick bat to elevate the baseball, and nearly half (49 percent, to be exact) of his contact was either a line drive or fly ball in 2018. That bodes well for Ruiz's future success, as it's easy to envision him hitting for more average and power given his present strengths at the plate.

Video: Keibert Ruiz on Fall League experience

Max Schrock, 2B, Cardinals' No. 11
After hitting .324 across his first three pro seasons, Schrock uncharacteristically slashed just .249/.296/.331 last year over 114 games in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. While some of Schrock's struggles can be attributed to poor luck (.260 BABIP), he did experience a dip in his line-drive rate (from 23.1 percent to 19.0) and employed a more pull-heavy approach after he had excelled at using the entire field in previous years. Beyond that, however, Schrock once again posted strong strikeout and walk rates, rarely swung and missed (4.3 percent whiff rate) and hit the ball in the air more often. So don't be surprised if the 24-year-old returns to his pre-2018 form in '19.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Cabrera dealing out of bullpen in Dominican

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

Eloy Jimenez's offseason campaign in the Dominican Republic likely has come to an end.

The White Sox had planned to shut down their top prospect after just a few weeks with Gigantes del Cibao, but a recent quad injury accelerated that timeline and could now keep him out of action until Spring Training, reports Bruce Levine of Chicago's 670thescore.com.

Eloy Jimenez's offseason campaign in the Dominican Republic likely has come to an end.

The White Sox had planned to shut down their top prospect after just a few weeks with Gigantes del Cibao, but a recent quad injury accelerated that timeline and could now keep him out of action until Spring Training, reports Bruce Levine of Chicago's 670thescore.com.

Prior to the injury, the No. 3 overall prospect had produced a robust .448/.500/.759 line, hitting safely in all eight games for Gigantes. Along the way, Jimenez totaled two home runs -- including one in his final game on Dec. 11 -- three doubles and nine RBIs.

The White Sox sent the 22-year-old outfielder to the Dominican for extra work after a regular season in which he hit .337/.384/.577 with 22 homers, 28 doubles and 75 RBIs over 108 games between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte.

Here's a look at how top prospects, as well as some other notable players, are performing so far in offseason leagues.

Australia

Michael Gettys, OF, Padres -- A tour of the Australian Baseball League last offseason did wonders for Buddy Reed's development, so the Padres are hoping that Gettys, a former Padres Top 30 prospect, will take a similar path. The 23-year-old outfielder is tied for the league lead in both home runs (six) and RBIs (20) and sports a .315/.386/.685 slash line through 20 games. During the regular season, Gettys totaled 15 homers and 17 steals but slashed just .230/.290/.399 with a 33.8 percent strikeout rate over 125 games at Double-A San Antonio.

D.J. Burt, 2B, Royals' No. 28 -- The 2014 fourth-round pick went 5-for-11 with two doubles and a stolen base over the weekend as he improved his average to .318 through 20 games for the Melbourne Aces. The 23-year-old second baseman spent the entire regular season at Class A Advanced Wilmington, hitting .280/.367/.371 with 24 extra-base hits and 32 stolen bases over 111 games.

Dominican Republic

Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres' No. 1 -- The No. 2 overall prospect has hit safely in eight of his last 10 games for Estrellas, though only one of those contests was a multi-hit effort. The 19-year-old shortstop has still managed four doubles and a triple in that span, while his knack for getting on base has resulted in him scoring nine runs. On the season, Tatis owns a .263/.379/.488 line with 11 extra-base hits, seven steals and 17 runs through 23 games.

Video: Cassavell on the excitement around Tatis Jr.

Genesis Cabrera, LHP, Cardinals' No. 13 -- Cabrera has been a bullpen force so far in the DWL and has now compiled seven scoreless innings, during which he's permitted two hits with 14 strikeouts, over his last 10 appearances. Altogether, the 22-year-old left-hander -- acquired from Tampa Bay last July in the Tommy Pham trade -- has pitched to a 1.26 ERA and .152 BAA with 21/2 K/BB in 14 1/3 frames (20 appearances) for Tigres del Licey.

Mexico

Ian Miller, OF, Mariners' No. 26 -- Even after playing 114 regular-season games at Triple-A Tacoma and another 18 in the Arizona Fall League, Miller is getting in even more work with Tomateros de Culiacan. Through 23 games, Miller has hit .298/.374/.415 with seven extra-base hits and six steals. And although he recently went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft, Miller's speed and ability to center field still should at some point get him to the Major Leagues.

Puerto Rico

Isan Diaz, 2B, Marlins' No. 9 -- Diaz owns a seven-game hitting streak and has hit safely in nine of his last 10 contests for Gigantes de Carolina. He's produced a .400/.450/.571 line with one home run and eight RBIs during that 10-game stretch, and overall, Diaz has slashed .299/.357/.414 with seven extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in 25 games this offseason. Although the 22-year-old second baseman was challenged this past season in the upper Minors and hit just .232 in 119 games between Double-A and Triple-A, he still finished with 13 homers, 23 doubles and 14 steals while reaching base at a .340 clip.

Video: Top Prospects: Isan Diaz, 2B, Marlins

Gage Hinsz, RHP, Pirates' No. 19 -- Hinsz has been sharp in his two recent starts for Gigantes, tossing six scoreless frames in back-to-back outings. He was especially good in his latest turn on Dec. 12, when he struck out eight batters, scattered four hits and recorded nine ground-ball outs. Overall, four of Hinsz's five starts this offseason have been of the scoreless variety, giving the 22-year-old righty a 1.08 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 25 innings.

Venezuela

Yonathan Daza, OF, Rockies' No. 18 -- Daza has tallied 17 hits including four doubles en route to a .309 average in 14 games since joining Tiburones de La Guaira. A plus runner who swiped 31 bases in 2017, Daza was limited to 54 games this past season at Double-A Hartford, where he stole just four bases but still hit .306. The 24-year-old outfielder is one of the better pure hitters in Colorado's system, with a .310/.351/.419 line in 594 games over parts of eight seasons in the Minors.

Anthony Jimenez, OF, Mariners' No. 30 -- Jimenez collected hits in four of five games and had three multi-hit performances last week for Cardenales de Lara. The 23-year-old outfielder has swung the bat well so far in limited action, compiling a .281 average through 15 games. In 102 regular-season games with Class A Advanced Modesto, Jimenez slashed .262/.314/.377 with 29 extra-base hits and 13 steals.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Cards use WM to fine-tune, explore options

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAS VEGAS -- The Cardinals, still celebrating the acquisition of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt when they descended upon Las Vegas for the Winter Meetings, return home knowing there remains work to be done.

The club's time in Sin City did not trigger any significant tweaks to the team's 40-man roster, but it may have laid the foundation for impact additions to come. St. Louis fielded interest in first baseman/outfielder Jose Martinez and explored various paths through which it could bolster the back end of its bullpen. Searches for a backup catcher and left-handed-hitting position players also continued in earnest.

LAS VEGAS -- The Cardinals, still celebrating the acquisition of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt when they descended upon Las Vegas for the Winter Meetings, return home knowing there remains work to be done.

The club's time in Sin City did not trigger any significant tweaks to the team's 40-man roster, but it may have laid the foundation for impact additions to come. St. Louis fielded interest in first baseman/outfielder Jose Martinez and explored various paths through which it could bolster the back end of its bullpen. Searches for a backup catcher and left-handed-hitting position players also continued in earnest.

The organization's stated goal was to leave the Winter Meetings with a better understanding of how it might address remaining areas of deficiency over the next two months.

As far as deals done, the Cardinals had two. They opened the week by claiming right-hander Ryan Meisinger off waivers from the Orioles. That addition gives St. Louis additional bullpen depth and also filled the team's roster, thus precluding it from participating in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft.

On Tuesday, the Cardinals swapped utility players with the Rangers. Patrick Wisdom, who didn't have a clear fit moving forward in St. Louis, went to the Rangers in exchange for Drew Robinson. Not only does Robinson bring greater defensive versatility than Wisdom, he also hits from the left side.

Video: Shildt on the Cards trading for versatile Robinson

This year's Winter Meetings did not initiate a flourish of transactions in either league. Las Vegas native Bryce Harper continues to court suitors, and the Cardinals remain on the periphery of his market. The free-agent-reliever market began to open only hours before team executives boarded flights home.

With baseball's biggest offseason event now in the rear-view mirror, here is a look at where St. Louis stands with two months remaining before Spring Training:

Biggest remaining needs
1. Relief pitching: Without a closer and enough reliable lefty relief, the Cardinals continue their search for bullpen help. They may be able to address this via trade (perhaps by dealing Martinez), though the club does maintain the financial flexibility to spend on free agents. Zach Britton and Andrew Miller remain the most prominent lefty relievers on the market.

2. Utility IF/OF: Even with the acquisition of Robinson, St. Louis has not ruled out adding another left-handed-hitting position player. That would likely to be someone who can come off the bench to play multiple positions.

3. Catcher: The Cardinals still need to find a backup for Yadier Molina now that Carson Kelly is no longer in the organization. The club is intrigued by a possible reunion with Francisco Pena, who served in that role last season, but are also considering other candidates. Ideally, St. Louis would be able to fill this need through a Minor League deal.

Video: CHC@STL: Pena cuts down Schwarber at second base

Rule 5 Draft
The Cardinals did not have room on their roster to participate in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft, but they did lose right-hander Chris Ellis in it. The Rangers, who had the eighth selection, plucked Ellis for a price of $100,000 and then dealt him to the Royals. If Kansas City does not keep Ellis on its big league roster for the entirety of next season, St. Louis will have the opportunity to take him back.

2018 Rule 5 Draft results

Ellis, who came to the Cardinals as part of Atlanta's package for Jaime Garcia two years ago, split last season between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. He combined to post a 3.93 ERA over 31 games (21 starts) while striking out 124 and walking 37.

In the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 Draft, the Cardinals took right-hander John Fasola (Rangers) and shortstop Alberto Triunfel (Angels).

GM's bottom line
"I think we're trying to build a postseason team. We feel like we're in good shape and have made good progress, but I'm not sure that we're sitting on our hands feeling we're done. We're still working on our roster to make sure it's a postseason team." -- Michael Girsch

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.

St. Louis Cardinals

Cards entertaining offers for Jose Martinez

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAS VEGAS -- While the Cardinals seem unlikely to leave Las Vegas with any seismic shakeup to their 40-man roster, the club continues to consider ways in which it could leverage its most consistent offensive performer from last year into a way to address other needs.

The Cardinals have spent the week entertaining inquiries about Jose Martinez and are prepared to deal him before next season begins. It may seem a puzzling stance given that Martinez slashed .305/.364/.457 while starting the third-most number of games for the team last season.

LAS VEGAS -- While the Cardinals seem unlikely to leave Las Vegas with any seismic shakeup to their 40-man roster, the club continues to consider ways in which it could leverage its most consistent offensive performer from last year into a way to address other needs.

The Cardinals have spent the week entertaining inquiries about Jose Martinez and are prepared to deal him before next season begins. It may seem a puzzling stance given that Martinez slashed .305/.364/.457 while starting the third-most number of games for the team last season.

But the motivation behind the Cardinals' intent to trade Martinez is two-fold: They don't have a fit for him and he has value to others.

With four years of team control remaining and a career .850 OPS since breaking through to the Majors in 2016, Martinez, unsurprisingly, has drawn widespread interest. He'd fit best in the American League, where Martinez could slot in as a designated hitter. But the Cardinals have also fielded inquiries from National League clubs.

"That's the kind of guy who has a big market," general manager Michael Girsch said. "Guys who hit .300 and make good contact, they are valuable players."

Lineup could have Carp, Goldy at top

Martinez would seemingly be valuable to the Cardinals, too. Despite doubling down on their commitment to start Dexter Fowler in right field, the team can't guarantee that Fowler will have the bounce-back season they need. And even if Fowler would rebound, Martinez would be a desirable weapon off the bench.

But the Cardinals have weighed the benefits of keeping Martinez as insurance with the opportunity to trade him for someone they need more. He remains one of the ways through which the Cardinals are considering finding help for the back end of the bullpen.

"We've explored every possible iteration," Girsch noted. "Sure, that's a possibility."

Subtracting Martinez from the roster would also provide the Cardinals the opening they need to include a left-handed bat on their bench.

Nevertheless, completing a trade involving Martinez, who is currently hitting .328/.435/.483 in the Venezuelan Winter League, did not seem imminent as members of the Cardinals' front office gathered Wednesday evening to caravan over to Fowler's home for dinner.

And not all of their time in Las Vegas was monopolized by trying to figure out how best to leverage the outfielder/first baseman. The front office also engaged with agents representing free-agent relievers, catchers and left-handed-hitting utility players.

"We're just gaining information," Girsch said. "We're making progress. But again, it's incremental until the last phone call that makes it happen."

Boras on Bryce

Perched in front of a Christmas tree at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, agent Scott Boras held his annual meeting with the media on Wednesday. And it's no surprise that his most prominent free-agent client -- Bryce Harper -- dominated the conversation.

Boras offered no hint as to how soon Harper may choose his next destination, but he described Harper's desire to find a team committed to sustained success and championship pursuits. When asked if St. Louis is a market big enough to handle the contractual demands for a player like Harper, Boras pointed out how the Cardinals are "worth billions of dollars [as] a top-10 revenue team."

"There's not one bird on their chest," he added. "There's two birds. They sit on the big bank of St. Louis."

The Cardinals' public response to Boras' comments was muted.

"I'm not sure getting in a debate with Scott Boras via the media is an ideal approach to this," Girsch said. "We have a budget that we stick to as best we can that we adjust when opportunities present themselves. That's all I have to say."

The Cardinals have engaged in discussions with Boras this offseason because he represents several players in which the team has interest.

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.

St. Louis Cardinals

Andy Cohen tried to lure Harper to the Cardinals

It's no secret that Andy Cohen is a huge Cardinals fan. The "Watch What Happens Live" host named his dog after Michael Wacha, for crying out loud! 

But, Cohen isn't any ordinary fan. While most fans simply want their team to succeed, Cohen tried to use his clout to help sell free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper on the possibility of joining the Cardinals. He even offered Bryce's wife, Kayla, a spot on a St. Louis version of "Real Housewives":

Cards lineup could have Carp, Goldy at top

Manager Shildt looking toward 2019 with current roster
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAS VEGAS -- With president of baseball operations John Mozeliak noting last week that it's "highly probable" the club's eight starting position players are already on the Cardinals' roster, the task now falls on manager Mike Shildt to put those pieces in place.

In his formal media session at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday, the first-year manager offered hints as to how he's considering constructing his lineup for 2019.

LAS VEGAS -- With president of baseball operations John Mozeliak noting last week that it's "highly probable" the club's eight starting position players are already on the Cardinals' roster, the task now falls on manager Mike Shildt to put those pieces in place.

In his formal media session at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday, the first-year manager offered hints as to how he's considering constructing his lineup for 2019.

He cleverly offered a response of "very nicely" when asked how Paul Goldschmidt will fit into the batting order, though he later confirmed the assumption that the new first baseman will be one of the team's top three hitters. Shildt went on to acknowledge that he "could see the benefit" of batting Goldschmidt right behind Matt Carpenter, whose job as a leadoff hitter remains secure.

"If it's not broke, don't fix it," Shildt said of Carpenter's placement. "I would say in heavy pencil that you could expect to see Matt Carpenter in the leadoff spot."

Video: Cardinals introduce Paul Goldschmidt following trade

Shildt went on to downplay the likelihood of Yadier Molina returning to the two-hole, a spot he occupied more than any other player after Shildt stepped in to manage. Paul DeJong, on the other hand, is a candidate to hit near the top of the lineup, potentially between Goldschmidt and cleanup hitter Marcell Ozuna.

"[DeJong], historically, has done well in that spot," Shildt said. "He's already proven he can perform there, and I think it would be great even for those guys to help his production even more."

• Cards entertaining trade offers for Martinez

Behind Ozuna, the possible lineup combinations are more varied. The team's right fielder -- which, for now, is Dexter Fowler -- and Molina will likely slide in next. Harrison Bader and Kolten Wong will bring speed to the bottom third of the order.

Video: Shildt expects bounce-back 2019 from Fowler

Shildt did dismiss the possibility of employing the batting-the-pitcher-eighth strategy that some clubs have used in recent years.

Whatever Shildt settles on, inserting a player who has slashed .301/.406/.541 over the past six seasons will help push the Cardinals toward the more prolific and consistent offense they are seeking.

"The more I know [Goldschmidt] and do research on him and talk to people I trust in the industry and people that played with him, he's a special talent in and of his own," Shildt said. "Offensively he's clearly a proven commodity that can hit and anchor an offense and lengthen the offense out and make people running better. You've got a game plan for him and a game plan around him for other guys that he's going to increase their opportunities."

Shildt's morning media session included discussions beyond the lineup, as well. Here are some of the additional highlights:

Jedd Gyorko, upon learning that the Cardinals had acquired Goldschmidt, told Shildt that he'd be willing to bring an outfielder's glove with him next season. Shildt said the club will "explore [that option] on some level and see what it looks like" in Spring Training. Gyorko has played two innings in the outfield during his professional career.

• In speaking about the acquisition of utility man Drew Robinson, Shildt put the move into clever context.

"He's actually from Las Vegas, the 26-year-old left-handed batter from Las Vegas," Shildt said. "Which is big news."

Video: Shildt on the Cards trading for versatile Robinson

Ninety minutes later, agent Scott Boras gathered down the hallway to talk about the intense pursuit of the other 26-year-old left-handed batter from Las Vegas, Bryce Harper, drawing interest this offseason.

• Members of the Cardinals' front office will spend part of the evening with Fowler, who invited the group over to his Las Vegas home for dinner.

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.

St. Louis Cardinals, Paul Goldschmidt

Cardinals expect Fowler to reclaim spot in RF

O'Neill, Martinez offer backup as outfielder returns from foot surgery
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAS VEGAS -- While the Cardinals spent Day 1 of the Winter Meetings canvassing the trade and free-agent markets for bullpen and bench additions, they are notably underprioritizing the search for additional outfield options.

Instead, they remain ready to give Dexter Fowler a shot at redemption.

LAS VEGAS -- While the Cardinals spent Day 1 of the Winter Meetings canvassing the trade and free-agent markets for bullpen and bench additions, they are notably underprioritizing the search for additional outfield options.

Instead, they remain ready to give Dexter Fowler a shot at redemption.

"If we were to open [the season] today, assuming he's what we think he is physically, yes, he'd get that opportunity to start," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Monday evening. "We're certainly bullish on him coming into camp and reverting back to what we saw two years ago."

In doubling down on their commitment to Fowler, who was cleared to resume baseball activities last week, the Cardinals continue to situate themselves on the outside of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes. They'd prefer to see the position capably filled by a player who still has $49.5 million due to him over the next three years.

The question, of course, is whether Fowler can have the bounce-back season that everyone desires.

He is coming off season-ending foot surgery and a career-worst year at the plate. Fowler posted an OPS+ of 58 while slashing .180/.278/.298 over 90 games. Along the way, his relationship with former manager Mike Matheny soured and his playing time was shaved.

Yet, the Cardinals remain unconvinced that Fowler, at age 32, has hit a career decline that can't be corrected.

"Dex has a lot of pride, and he certainly wants to come back and show what he's capable of doing," Mozeliak said. "Obviously we invested heavily in that, and we're very hopeful that will be the outcome."

Video: STL@CIN: Fowler belts a go-ahead home run in the 11th

The Cardinals will have protection behind Fowler, right now in the form of Tyler O'Neill and Jose Martinez. The club is still exploring with Martinez, though, so he may not be around as backup by time next season opens.

As far as Fowler's physical state, the club received a favorable report from head athletic trainer Adam Olsen, who recently visited Fowler in Las Vegas. They've also outlined a conditioning program for Fowler to follow leading up to Spring Training.

Health is a key part of the equation. Ultimately, though, it's production that will determine whether the Cardinals were prudent not to pursue other options for the position.

"I want him to chase that carrot," Mozeliak said. "I want him to be someone who shows up to camp and wants that everyday role."

Medical report
• Mozeliak confirmed that catcher Yadier Molina will undergo a "very small" cleanup procedure on an unspecified knee Thursday. The surgery is not expected to affect Molina's offseason preparation.

Marcell Ozuna remains in the therapy portion of his rehab following shoulder surgery in late October. The Cardinals anticipate getting a better gauge for where he is, as far as baseball activities are concerned, in early January.

Alex Reyes continues to rehab from season-ending shoulder surgery and projects to open camp as one of several pitchers the Cardinals will stretch out next spring. Mozeliak said the organization will keep an open mind about where Reyes fits best on the roster until after they see how he progresses.

Worth noting
• Free agent Tyson Ross signed a one-year deal with Detroit, the Tigers announced on Monday. Ross finished 2018 by making nine appearances for the Cardinals.

• The Cardinals do not anticipate clearing a roster spot this week for the purpose of having room to make a selection in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft.

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.

St. Louis Cardinals, Dexter Fowler

Cards acquire Drew Robinson from Rangers

St. Louis continuing to search relief pitching market; Goldschmidt trade still talk of the town
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAS VEGAS -- It took six years for Patrick Wisdom to work his way to St. Louis. Now, after 32 games with the Cardinals, his tenure with the club has come to an end.

With a deal that turned roster redundancy into a needed left-handed bat, the Cardinals traded Wisdom to the Rangers on Tuesday for utility man Drew Robinson. The club's desire to better balance its heavily right-handed roster prompted the swap.

LAS VEGAS -- It took six years for Patrick Wisdom to work his way to St. Louis. Now, after 32 games with the Cardinals, his tenure with the club has come to an end.

With a deal that turned roster redundancy into a needed left-handed bat, the Cardinals traded Wisdom to the Rangers on Tuesday for utility man Drew Robinson. The club's desire to better balance its heavily right-handed roster prompted the swap.

The acquisition does not necessarily end the Cardinals' search for left-handed position players. But it does give them an option in the form of a player who can play anywhere in the infield or outfield. During his nine years in the Rangers' organization, Robinson started at seven different positions.

"Drew will certainly come to camp with a chance to have that [utility] role, but I don't think it necessarily limits us from pursuing something else if there's a fit," Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch said. "I don't think this closes the door on anything."

Robinson, 26, made his Major League debut in 2017, seven years after being selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the MLB Draft. He appeared in 48 games for the Rangers in his first season and another 47 in '18.

Robinson hasn't had much success at the Major League level, where he's posted a 40 percent strikeout rate and slashed .204/.301/.366 over 246 plate appearances. But he slugged .569 with a .948 OPS in 53 games at the Triple-A level last season and has historically hit right-handed pitchers well.

"I think any time guys get small samples of big league time spread out across time and they are utility guys not getting plate appearances on a consistent basis, it's tough for a lot of guys to get settled into the big leagues," Girsch said. "He's had a history of being a very good performer at Triple-A. We're excited about him."

Wisdom tallied 50 home runs over the last two seasons, split between Triple-A Memphis and St. Louis. He posted an .882 OPS over 58 plate appearances with the Cardinals.

Reeling in relievers
The Cardinals are continuing to spend a significant amount of their time in Las Vegas canvassing the free-agent and trade markets for relief help. There was not a sense on Tuesday, though, that the club was likely to complete that pursuit before departing the Winter Meetings.

Video: Britton, Miller could be options for Cardinals

The progress made has come at a more foundational level -- determining which relievers other teams would entertain trading, as well as what potential acquisition costs might be.

"We're sort of honing in on smaller numbers of players and teams to deal with each day," Girsch said. "But, again, it's a slow process."

The Goldschmidt effect
Though it's been nearly a week since the Cardinals completed a trade for perennial All-Star Paul Goldschmidt, the former D-backs first baseman remains a popular topic of conversation at the Winter Meetings.

There are some who celebrated the move.

 "Goldy, he can say in the Central as long as he wants," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "Trying to work on getting him to the American League next. … To get him out of our division is great. I hope he's happy. I have to send him flowers."

Others, like Cubs manager Joe Maddon, cringed.

"I don't like the Diamondbacks right now at all, I really don't," he said. "Did you ever see them play against us? Against everybody? … [The Cardinals] have gotten really good. He's kind of like, when he sashays into the clubhouse and everybody sees him walking in there, they all become better. That definitely makes them much more difficult to beat next year."

Video: Paul Goldschmidt traded to the Cardinals

Goldschmidt arrives in the National League Central having posted a 1.170 career OPS against the Cubs and 1.130 OPS against the Brewers.

Then, there was D-backs manager Torey Lovullo, who, along with Arizona general manager Mike Hazen, delivered news of the trade to his former All-Star first baseman. Lovullo acknowledged trying to talk Hazen out of trading Goldschmidt, but also noted that he understands the organization's intent.

"Inside of my baseball life, it was probably one of the hardest days I ever had," Lovullo said. "One of the things [Goldschmidt] did share is that he felt like there was so much unfinished business in Arizona. He felt bad about that. So I had to reassure him that he left everything he had on the field. The culture that he helped us and me create will be carried on, and one day, when we do win a world championship, he's going to be a part of that, even though he won't be there physically."

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.

St. Louis Cardinals, Drew Robinson

RHP Meisinger claimed off waivers from O's

Transaction fills St. Louis' 40-man roster ahead of Rule 5 Draft
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAS VEGAS -- With the waiver claim of right-hander Ryan Meisinger on Monday, the Cardinals added to their bullpen depth and filled their 40-man roster on the first day of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

Meisinger arrives from Baltimore, where he made his Major League debut in 2018 and went on to appear in 18 games for the Orioles. He allowed 15 runs on 18 hits -- including six homers -- over those 21 big league innings. Meisinger walked 10 and struck out 21.

LAS VEGAS -- With the waiver claim of right-hander Ryan Meisinger on Monday, the Cardinals added to their bullpen depth and filled their 40-man roster on the first day of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

Meisinger arrives from Baltimore, where he made his Major League debut in 2018 and went on to appear in 18 games for the Orioles. He allowed 15 runs on 18 hits -- including six homers -- over those 21 big league innings. Meisinger walked 10 and struck out 21.

"It was someone that our group thought there was some upside [with]," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "Just continuing to add depth at the Minor League level to give us some flexibility."

That flexibility is enhanced by the fact that Meisinger still has Minor League options.

Video: CWS@BAL: Meisinger retires Rondon, later earns win

The 24-year-old fared better in Triple-A, where he posted a 2.28 ERA over 21 appearances last season. Meisinger had been in the Orioles' organization since 2015, when he was an 11th-round Draft pick out of Radford University.

In his abbreviated stint with the Orioles in 2018, Meisinger showed some promise with his slider, which produced a whiff rate of 42.4 percent per Statcast™. His fastball wasn't nearly as effective. Opponents slugged .778 against it.

Because Meisinger took the last open spot on the Cardinals' roster, the club will not be eligible to participate in the Rule 5 Draft unless another player is dropped before then. Mozeliak said the team is unlikely to make such a move.

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.

St. Louis Cardinals, Ryan Meisinger

Shildt, Cards retooling approach over offseason

Manager discusses bullpen strategy, offensive outlook for 2019
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LAS VEGAS -- Though he has been working in professional baseball for nearly two decades, Mike Shildt will find himself a bit out of his element this week as he navigates Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings for the first time in his career.

"What should I expect?" he jokingly asked a few days before traveling to Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS -- Though he has been working in professional baseball for nearly two decades, Mike Shildt will find himself a bit out of his element this week as he navigates Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings for the first time in his career.

"What should I expect?" he jokingly asked a few days before traveling to Las Vegas.

What he'll find is a fishbowl of attention as discussions heat up, rumors fly and deals get done over the next four days. Shildt will double as an active participant, helping develop the organization's offseason strategy, and an interested observer watching the front office try to execute that vision.

Last week, just before the organization finalized a trade for Paul Goldschmidt, Shildt invited MLB.com into his Busch Stadium office for an extended conversation, the highlights of which can be found here:

MLB.com: One of the organization's stated priorities this offseason was to retool the bullpen. What changes and/or additions would you like to see?

Shildt: "We're doing our very best this offseason to figure out how to think about the current guys we have in our bullpen and figure out how to get the most out of them. I feel really good about what that process looks like. With that being said, if you look, we were in the bottom third of almost every category in the bullpen in the National League and in the entire league [in 2018]. You look at postseason teams and guys that win in the postseason, they're pretty strong in their bullpens. There is zero coincidence in that. It's a big factor.

"I was talking to [president of baseball operations John Mozeliak] about it: All of our individual parts are important -- baserunning, defense, starting pitching and, clearly, offense. But if you're looking at a city block, one of your taller buildings would be your bullpen."

Cards' bullpen pursuits could take many forms

MLB.com: Did you watch the postseason with a critical eye on bullpen usage?

Shildt: "Yes."

MLB.com: And what were your takeaways?

Shildt: "It was probably the most fascinating playoffs I've ever seen. Of course, I'm looking at it from a little different lens, but my primary reasons for watching games was to see how and why and what people are doing. Clearly, people are getting more creative, and there's a lot of scrutiny to it. I think it's a little crazy how it's gone to some degree.

"Part of it is intuitive in the sense that certain teams go to a bullpen early because that's the strength of their team and that's what they have. Your job as a manager, in simple terms, is you get the guys that have the best chance to succeed in that situation. I thought other managers were brilliant in how they did it. It just looks a lot different."

MLB.com: Can you take what we saw of bullpen usage in the postseason and modify it for use during the regular season?

Shildt: "I don't think it's sustainable over 162 [games]. You guys ask this question [before games] -- and I get it -- about bullpen availability. Well, bullpens are fluid every day.

"Clearly, we want roles. I want roles. I'd love to have the eighth-inning guy, the seventh-inning guy, the matchup guys, the ninth-inning guy. And a lot of days you have it set up. But there are days you go and know that this guy has pitched X-number days in a row and needs a blow or whatever the case may be. So that changes the dynamic of your bullpen.

"To be able to be uber aggressive with your bullpen on a consistent basis for 162 games, I think, is only sustainable if you have really, really, really good depth. When I say depth, I mean quality depth.

"The term is 'bullpenning,' right? You can bullpen your way through it, but it really gets down to what that looks like. Who are you bringing in that's better? And if you're doing it earlier, who are you going to bring in after that? I get the concept. I understand it. One thing I still put an eye to is I understand that the leverage situation may be the sixth or the seventh. That may be the spot for your better guy. But the reality is if you sit there and read the tea leaves, you know that spot is coming back up again. And what does that look like?"

MLB.com: In your answer, you noted that you like the idea of having defined roles for certain relievers. So is it your preference to have a designated closer that you hold for save situations?

Shildt: "Ideally, I'd like that person to be the one that always shuts the door. Now, I can still be open-minded to looking into it more. I would be open to [pitching them earlier in games] in certain situations. But again, you look at the Andrew Miller example a couple years ago, you could bring him in [early] knowing you had guys behind him who could nail things down. It's easier to do that if you've got those other pieces. I'm not saying we don't, but sometimes you try to create what, in a vacuum, is a good matchup without having an answer for the later innings."

Video: Shildt Named Manager

MLB.com: You pointed out that your bullpen ranked in the bottom third of the league in several categories last season. One of those was strikeouts. Does that need to be addressed going into next year?

Shildt: "That's the way the game is going. Without strikeouts, you're putting more pressure on your defense. Yeah, having guys able to come in, especially in the higher-leverage situations, and get a strikeout is important. Again, you look at the way bullpens are being built and some of the teams in October, they had relievers with strikeout-type stuff.

"The converse of that is we have guys like Jordan [Hicks], Dakota [Hudson], guys with exceptionally high ground-ball rates. There's something to be said for that, too. I think ultimately you have to be above average at something. The lack of strikeouts was real."

MLB.com: Shifting focus here, what did you feel your offense lacked last year?

Shildt: "What lens are we looking through? Are we looking at the whole year, or are we looking at the second half?"

MLB.com: Evaluate it over the course of the full season.

Shildt: "Then I would probably say our lack of consistency. I really do believe that we demonstrated with the 10 series wins in a row [in the second half] that if you do this, this and this well and on a consistent basis, you're going to win series. That's what can carry you to the playoffs.

"The more consistent players we have, the more consistent we are, the better we are. We saw it for a period of time, but having a consistent identity will help, and I feel comfortable and confident we're definitely heading in that direction."

Cardinals introduce slugger Goldschmidt

MLB.com: How much concern do you have about an imbalance with such a right-handed-heavy lineup?

Shildt: "A good hitter is a good hitter. But there are matchups and information to consider. It can complicate things for another manager to have more contrast. You look at L.A., for example. They absolutely maximized matchups [last year]. I thought Milwaukee maximized it, too, to where there's intentionality in how they built a roster. I'm not saying it's easy to do, but you look over from a managing perspective and start trying to match up, you know they have a counter piece for it. There's something that continues to create some level of competitive advantage.

"That being said, if you have a solid player that is just a good player, you ride with that. You feel OK with that."

MLB.com: How large is the gap between your club and the two that finished ahead of you in the NL Central last year?

Shildt: "It's not that far at all. Honestly, I don't feel like we're catching anybody.

"I get it. I'm not naïve to the fact that Chicago has been to the playoffs the last three years. Milwaukee went to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and won our division. That being said, if you look, our head-to-head series with Chicago [last year] was favorable to us. And we played Milwaukee tooth and nail."

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.

St. Louis Cardinals

Cards' bullpen pursuits could take many forms

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- After a month of focusing his attention on executing a trade for slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak now turns toward another pursuit, even if he's still clarifying what it is.

The Cardinals intend to recast their bullpen over the next few months, though the form that will take remains undetermined. The club has discussed the possibility of reaching for one of the touted free-agent closers available. They've also considered giving the ninth to Jordan Hicks, while backfilling ahead of him. They do acknowledge needing left-handed help.

ST. LOUIS -- After a month of focusing his attention on executing a trade for slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak now turns toward another pursuit, even if he's still clarifying what it is.

The Cardinals intend to recast their bullpen over the next few months, though the form that will take remains undetermined. The club has discussed the possibility of reaching for one of the touted free-agent closers available. They've also considered giving the ninth to Jordan Hicks, while backfilling ahead of him. They do acknowledge needing left-handed help.

"I'm open to anything," Mozeliak said before departing for the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in Las Vegas. "I think the way we're approaching the next two months is if we can find some arms that we think could benefit us, we'll pursue it. I'm not committed to saying exactly how we're going to think through this yet."

By filling their biggest offensive need with Goldschmidt, the Cardinals could reallocate the financial resources saved by not signing a position player to a multi-year deal to fortifying the bullpen. But would that be prudent?

What's next for the Cards after Goldschmidt acquisition?

The organization has had a recent run of misses in the free-agent reliever market, most recently with Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland. The notable exception has been the success St. Louis has had in finding value through signing relievers to Minor League deals. That's how they landed last season's closer, Bud Norris, and an All-Star in Pat Neshek a few years before that.

The volatility of the relief market brings risk in committing multiple years and millions of dollars to an experienced closer. But it may also bring more certainty than trying to find value in the middle tier, which is where the Cardinals have recently shopped. With Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Joe Kelly, Zach Britton, David Robertson, Adam Ottavino and others still unsigned, there is a plethora of options should the Cards feel this is the best way to boost the back end of their 'pen.

"I think this is true maybe more for relievers than any other position, but the more you can avoid long-term contracts, the better for the organization in terms of flexibility and not being locked into something that may or may not work," Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch said. "I think we've all seen that relievers are a challenge to project out more than a year or a month depending on the situation. But it's always a tradeoff. The better players always require bigger investments, so the tradeoff is how much better do we think they'll be in the short term, and we bet on the long term."

But the Cardinals don't have to be so narrowly focused in their search. With redundancy still to trim from their roster, addressing the bullpen via trade is also a plausible path. Because the club needs to carve out a bench spot for any to-be-acquired left-handed bat, the Cardinals will listen to offers for outfielder Jose Martinez. They may also gauge interest in Jedd Gyorko.

This is the blueprint the Cardinals executed a year ago when they tapped into their outfield depth to address the bullpen by dealing Randal Grichuk to Toronto for Dominic Leone. A similar move would make sense.

"We're looking for a good fit and a good opportunity. Whether that's a big lift or a small lift will sort of depend on what the market bears," Girsch said. "How [do] we best invest our dollars? We want to help our bullpen, but there are many ways to address that problem, and we're working through what those are."

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.

St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals introduce slugger Goldschmidt

St. Louis goes all-in for 2019 for first baseman impressed by an organization 'known for greatness'
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- He was a high schooler then, standing alongside some buddies in center field as the city of Houston simmered toward an eruption. Paul Goldschmidt's beloved Houston Astros were one out away from advancing to the World Series for the first time.

Poised to be a witness to franchise history, Goldschmidt instead found himself stunned to silence like the rest of the sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park, as he watched Albert Pujols famously delay the Astros' celebration. Pujols' home run off Brad Lidge in Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series remains among his most majestic, though the Astros wrapped up the series in Game 6.

ST. LOUIS -- He was a high schooler then, standing alongside some buddies in center field as the city of Houston simmered toward an eruption. Paul Goldschmidt's beloved Houston Astros were one out away from advancing to the World Series for the first time.

Poised to be a witness to franchise history, Goldschmidt instead found himself stunned to silence like the rest of the sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park, as he watched Albert Pujols famously delay the Astros' celebration. Pujols' home run off Brad Lidge in Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series remains among his most majestic, though the Astros wrapped up the series in Game 6.

Goldschmidt sulked out of the ballpark, ripping up his ticket as he left.

That future Hall of Famer who once broke his heart is the icon to which Goldschmidt now finds himself being compared. Goldschmidt arrived in St. Louis this week as the newest slugging first baseman in a long lineage of them, and he brings that combination of star quality, defensive prowess and feared offensive production that the Cards haven't boasted since Pujols' departure.

• Goldschmidt is perfect fit for the Cardinal way

"The Cardinals have had some impressive first basemen over the years: Johnny Mize, Stan Musial, Bill White, Orlando Cepeda, Mark McGwire, Keith Hernandez, Albert Pujols and, of course, most recently, Matt Carpenter," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said to open Goldschmidt's introductory press conference on Friday. "Paul is a perfect fit for our club."

Video: DeWitt talks adding Goldschmidt to the Cardinals

The Cardinals are a perfect fit for him, as well.

Though he grew up seeing the Cardinals as an irritating equal to his hometown club, Goldschmidt also developed an admiration for the organization because of its sustained success. As a player, that was only reaffirmed by the turnout and support he saw for the Cardinals as a visitor at Busch Stadium.

"I don't know of a player in baseball who doesn't want to play here," Goldschmidt said, donning a Cardinals jersey with his new No. 46. "There are certain organizations that are just known for greatness, and this is one of them."

Video: Goldschmidt excited for opportunity with Cardinals

Goldschmidt comes with a resume that speaks for him -- six consecutive All-Star Game appearances, four Silver Slugger Awards, three Gold Gloves and a reputation as a beloved teammate, disciplined worker and dedicated philanthropist. The Cardinals, as president of baseball operations John Mozeliak noted on Friday, could find no negatives to this pursuit.

That includes Goldschmidt's contract status.

Goldschmidt's current contract runs only through the 2019 season, but the Cardinals separated his pending free agency from their interest in the player. The organization has long prided itself on avoiding narrow competitive windows by prioritizing the long term, but St. Louis has deviated from that blueprint in constructing this 2019 roster.

Goldschmidt adds another name to a list of prominent contributors poised to be free agents after next season. Marcell Ozuna, Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright are among them.

There will be time to address those realities, Mozeliak acknowledged. But an uncertain roster wasn't going to preclude the Cardinals from going all-in on a championship push for 2019. Three years of being relegated to postseason spectatorship upped the urgency. It's the longest playoff drought for the organization since 1997-99.

"When you look at what this does for the club, it does say that 2019 matters," Mozeliak said. "I've always been one of those types of people that has always thought about the bigger picture; this was a different type of deal for us. It was clearly about trying to position the 2019 team to be more competitive. There are other ways to do that, right? But we felt like this made the biggest impact that we could do, so that's why we pursued it."

• With Goldschmidt on board, what's next for St. Louis?

Working with the D-backs to find common ground consumed Mozeliak's time over the past month. The organization entered the offseason prepared to address its offensive needs through other means and had the financial flexibility to do so. But once the D-backs made it known that they were serious about entertaining offers for the best homegrown player in their history, the Cardinals pivoted to a singular pursuit.

Mozeliak remained in contact with D-backs general manager Mike Hazen on an almost daily basis over the last month to maintain momentum toward a deal. They reached one this week that sent Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver, Andy Young and a Draft pick to Arizona for the perennial MVP candidate.

"This was a deal that presented itself like it was almost like a unicorn," Mozeliak said. "We chased it. And we got it."

Whether the catch ultimately becomes a short-term boost or a long-term investment will be determined over the next year. Goldschmidt, who is entering his age-31 season, will be a free agent for the first time next fall. The Cardinals have already expressed interest in signing him to an extension, but also want to give St. Louis and the organization a chance to sell itself in the coming months.

Goldschmidt sidestepped those questions about his future, just as he did the comparisons that now shadow him.

"I'm not trying to live up to anything, but just trying to be part of a team and help us win," Goldschmidt said. "I think that's where my focus is: try to prepare, get ready for Spring Training, get ready for Opening Day, come in and learn from the guys that are here, learn from the coaching staff, find ways that I can get better, find ways that I can help the team.

"Honestly, it's not about me. It's just about trying to help us win, help this team. Not to speak out of turn because I don't know what the organization's goals are, but I'm sure everyone wants to win the World Series."

Mozeliak leaned in with a grin, adding:

"We do."

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.

St. Louis Cardinals, Paul Goldschmidt