ST. LOUIS -- Weeks of projections and market analysis took more of a tangible form for the Cardinals this week, as members of the front office gathered at the General Managers Meetings to begin the discovery phase of the Hot Stove season.
While these meetings don't generate the same level of public interest or activity as Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings, they are fertile ground for discussions that can lay the groundwork for upcoming movement. For the Cardinals, that meant a chance to do a deeper dive into who might fit their need for another impact bat.
"I think what we've done is to get a better understanding of what that market looks like, in both free agency and trade," general manager Michael Girsch said as the second day of meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., wrapped up. "We feel like there is some potential that is worth exploring, but whether anything comes of that is to be determined."
Any discussion about a big bat seems to naturally evolve into a question about the biggest ones available -- Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Of the two, Harper would be the most natural fit for a Cardinals team seeking improvement in right field, a new face of the franchise and a left-handed bat.
The market for Harper is likely to take some time to crystallize, though it started this week, with agent Scott Boras marketing his client as "a generational player." Boras, who spoke to reporters for more than an hour on Wednesday, went on to outline Harper's influence on the field and off the field. In doing the latter, Boras cited Harper's role in boosting the Nationals' attendance, TV ratings and franchise value.
"You've seen an owner's dream happen before you," Boras said. "And for an owner to know that the rocket ship of economic opportunity is just blasting off because the player is just entering the prime of his career, you're really talking about just a unique and rare opportunity for an owner."
It's that same phraseology -- unique and rare -- that the Cardinals have used when describing what it would take to stretch their financial comfort level. Giancarlo Stanton reached that threshold last year.
And while the Cardinals couldn't convince Stanton to waive his no-trade clause, nor persuade David Price or Jason Heyward to take what would have been franchise-record contracts two years earlier, the club isn't hesitant to wade in the deep end of the high-priced market again.
How successful they'll be could hinge on a variety of factors, though the value of the contract offer is likely to be chief among them.
"Realistically, there are always more teams chasing top free agents," Girsch said. "Multiple teams chase and only one team gets it. We haven't gotten that in the recent past, but that doesn't affect our level of interest in doing that, where we see an opportunity that makes sense for us. Whether that translates into signing someone or not is only partially in our hands."
Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million offer made by the Nationals on the final day of the regular season. That decision offers the 26-year-old the chance to test his value on the open market.
"Certainly, Harper's Bazaar has begun," Boras said, punctuating the pun. "It's fashionable. It's historical. It's elite. Global, certainly. And certainly, it has inspirations that deal with great shoes and great hair."
Ankiel undergoes surgery
Rick Ankiel, who has stated his intentions to try to make one last comeback, recently underwent surgery on his left elbow, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Wednesday. That procedure, which the Post-Dispatch described as a partial reconstruction of the ligament, will not require the entire year of rehab that full reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) would have.
Nevertheless, this is a setback for Ankiel and St. Louis, which is interested in working out an arrangement with Ankiel to help him in his comeback attempt. Ankiel is rehabbing at the Cardinals' complex in Jupiter, Fla., the Post-Dispatch confirmed, and there remains a strong possibility that the Cards will sign him to a Minor League deal once he's deemed healthy.
Ankiel last pitched in the Majors in 2005 before reinventing himself as an outfielder, where he played another seven seasons.
• Eight members of the organization recently filed for Minor League free agency, including former closer Edward Mujica and backup catcher Francisco Pena. Lefties Elniery Garcia and Tommy Layne; catcher Steven Baron; infielder Wilfredo Tovar; and outfielder Victor Roache round out the rest of the group.
• Steve Turco, who retired this year after 36 seasons as a player and instructor in the Cardinals organization, was named the winner of Minor League Baseball's Mike Coolbaugh Award. The honor is presented annually to "an individual who has shown outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game and skill in mentoring young players on the field." Turco most recently served as a Minor League instructor following stints as a Minor League manager and scout.
• The Mariners announced this week that they have hired Paul Davis, a member of the Cardinals' performance department, to be their next pitching coach. Davis spent five years in the Cardinals organization, serving most recently as manager of pitching analytics.