Inbox: What is Cards' primary offseason focus?

Beat reporter Jenifer Langosch answers questions from St. Louis fans

October 24th, 2016

With the Hot Stove season nearing and the most unlikely of World Series matchups now set, let's take some time on the eve of Game 1 to hit on some topics that relate to what could be ahead for the Cardinals this offseason.

Remember to include your name and hometown when submitting questions for future consideration. This Inbox will be a regular feature on during the offseason, so if you don't see your submitted question here, look for it to appear in a future installment.

With so much uncertainty about this upcoming season, what do you think is the biggest concern/need that needs to be addressed this offseason?

-- Mike P., Verona, NJ.

In my opinion, the Cardinals' biggest deficiency this season was related to run prevention. And, of course, that includes two components -- pitching and defense. Now, I don't foresee a seismic shakeup with the pitching staff, so what you saw in 2016 will largely be what you get in '17 (plus the notable addition of ). The offseason focus, then, should shift to the defensive side, where the Cardinals need to improve at several positions. Most importantly, they need to address this year's deficiencies up the middle.

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How big a difference can the defense make with a mostly static pitching staff? Quite a significant one, actually. Consider that while the Cardinals ranked 19th in the Majors with a 4.08 ERA in 2016, they jumped up to seventh with a FIP of 3.88. The Fielding Independent Pitching statistic estimates a pitcher's run prevention independent of the performance of the defense. It's evidence of how much this year's staff was hurt by the defense behind it.

What starting pitchers are available that we could trade for to aid the staff?

-- Marion M., Vandalia, Ill.

Get ready to hear this often over the next few months: This year's free-agent class, especially when it comes to starting pitching, is remarkably weak. With such slim pickings on the free-agent market, the trade demand for starters will be high. And with that comes high asking prices, prices that the Cardinals, who already have sufficient starting depth, likely won't want to match.

Remember that the club will be adding Lynn back into the rotation after a missed season recovering from Tommy John surgery. , , , , and are all returning. , and are expected to be back on the mound after injury-plagued seasons. And the Cards have not officially declined 's option yet either.

Is the idea of trading for and keeping in center field, moving to left, a possibility?

-- Ryan Snider, Herrin Ill.

This wouldn't make sense for the Cardinals for a couple of reasons. Atop that list is the fact that Gonzalez will be a free agent after the 2017 season. Giving up talent to trade for a one-year stopgap isn't ideal. It would be the same scenario that recently played out with .

Secondly, the Cardinals have already stated that upgrading their center field defense sits atop their winter to-do list. Gonzalez wouldn't help in that regard. If the Cardinals engage in trade talks with the Rockies this winter, those talks would be much more likely to focus on center fielder than Gonzalez.

With Wacha having trouble keeping his shoulder healthy, and [Trevor] Rosenthal's dominant three-inning showing near the end of the season, does it stand to reason that a switch in roles might be in order?

-- Devyn K.

General manager John Mozeliak did not dismiss the idea of Rosenthal transitioning into a starter's role when asked about such a possibility this month. But I still see it as unlikely. I'd be concerned about whether Rosenthal still has the pitch repertoire to be a viable starting pitcher. He has become fastball-dependent (77.8 percent of his pitches in 2016 were fastballs) and has all but abandoned his curveball as a reliever. He threw his changeup 14 percent of the time last year, but that doesn't erase questions about whether he has enough variety in his repertoire to handle facing hitters two, three or four times during the course of a game.

Also, building Rosenthal up to carry the workload of a starter would take time. He'd gradually increase his innings total, but he would not be free to handle anywhere near 200 innings next year. With the Cardinals already planning to closely monitor Reyes' workload next season, they can't afford to have a second member of the rotation limited as well.

As for Wacha, yes, the bullpen could become a fallback option should his shoulder not show enough strength to handle a starting role.

We've heard how great of a person Holliday is. What does losing him do for the clubhouse/leadership?

-- @BradHuekels, Dubuque, IA.

Holliday was a part of the Cardinals' leadership core, which also includes Wainwright, and . Certainly, his voice will be missed moving forward. But the Cardinals have been preparing for an evolving leadership core, which is why manager Mike Matheny has been intentional about encouraging some of the team's younger players to begin taking on a more vocal role in recent years. That ensures that new leaders are being groomed.