LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The topic of fit dominated manager Mike Matheny's afternoon media gathering at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday.
The Cardinals manager discussed the dilemma of fitting an excess of starting pitching candidates onto a roster that features only five rotation spots, and how Jon Jay still fits on a club that recently added another center fielder to the mix. Matheny talked at length, too, about where Jhonny Peralta can find a fit in an organization that has long boasted of holding its players to higher standards on and off the field.
Cognizant that Peralta's connection to the Biogenesis scandal "is always going to be a cloud," Matheny noted that he has had no issue turning the page on a player the Cardinals recently signed to a four-year, $53 million contract to plug a hole a short. Though Matheny did not talk with Peralta before the free-agent deal was done, the reconnaissance work by the Cards leading up to the signing left him confident that the team was adding a well-liked teammate who was remorseful for his involvement and had humbly accepted his punishment.
"You start bordering on self righteousness when everybody sits up on a horse and starts looking down on people for the decisions they've made," Matheny said. "But we'd all like to see the game cleaned up, absolutely. But also to realize once again we don't know the entire stories of people. I'm not one that's going to be standing up and pointing my finger beyond what the judgments are that have been put on him.
"I'd like to help him move on, but part of it is just sitting in stuff sometimes. Right now he's sitting in it. I think it's going to come out in the end with the kind of person he is. Hopefully, he uses it in a positive way somehow. I think these trials in life sometimes present a great opportunity or a platform to make a great change."
Peralta was one of 13 players that Major League Baseball hit with a suspension after wrapping up its Biogenesis investigation in August. Biogenesis was a Miami-area clinic that allegedly provided performance-enhancing substances and human growth hormone to players. Peralta did not appeal his 50-game suspension and admitted to taking a banned substance during the spring of 2012.
Peralta finished serving it in time to rejoin the Tigers for the postseason. He addressed his teammates in Detroit upon returning, though Matheny said he does not anticipate Peralta needing to stand in front of his new teammates to justify his past mistake. Matheny has been in touch with several of the team's players already and came out of those conversations believing "this isn't an issue."
"Once again, at some point, people pay and then they move on," Matheny said. "That's where we are. We're in the process of moving forward. There are other people out there that may not like our stance on that and think of us as hypocritical. So be it. But for us, we see a guy who made a decision that he regrets. He didn't fight to pay the price. He paid it. Now we're part of his future."
On the field, Peralta is the obvious fit at shortstop and will replace the Pete Kozma-Daniel Descalso timeshare. Matheny said he has exchanged texts with Kozma since the Peralta signing and that Kozma "understands that this is a business." Kozma, while above average defensively, has hit just .232 in 499 career Major League at-bats.
Matheny also reached out to Jay in order to have an open dialogue about how Peter Bourjos' arrival could affect his role. The Cardinals have not explicitly laid out their plan for playing time in center field, but Bourjos is expected to leap Jay on the depth chart.
Playing Bourjos in center would upgrade the club defensively.
"He's a pro," Matheny said of Jay. "He got it. He understands. I've been there myself. Sometimes you go through a season where it didn't go exactly how you wanted it to go. Most of the guys, what it's going to do is you're going to have them dig deeper and figure out what they're going to do. That's exactly what Jon said. He said all the right things and he's been working hard trying to figure out how to come into spring and help our club."
As for the surplus of starting pitching, Matheny provided little insight into how the process of determining a starting five will go in Spring Training. While at least six players could make a strong argument for inclusion in the rotation based on recent results (that doesn't even include Carlos Martinez ), the Cards do not have any intention to open the season with a six-man rotation.
The club is cognizant of the challenge it will have this spring in finding a sufficient amount of innings for so many starting candidates. The organization also has the task of building up some of its Double-A and Triple-A starters who may be participating in big league camp.
"We have got a large group of starters, and that's a great, great blessing to have this time of year," Matheny said. "But we realize anything can happen, and it can happen in a hurry. So we'll have quite a few guys prepared and give them an opportunity and just try to make good decisions that are best for them individually and for our club over the long haul."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.