ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' offseason planning began in earnest on Monday, when president of baseball operations John Mozeliak sat down with staff to dissect how the organization can correct course after failing to reach the postseason for a second consecutive season.
That answer is multi-dimensional and not entirely defined so soon. The starting point, however, certainly seems to be.
As Mozeliak talked loosely about needs and potential direction, he routinely came back to the planned effort to pursue an impact bat. The lack of an imposing middle-of-the-order presence limited the team's offensive ceiling in 2017.
"There have been years where we sat up here and said, 'Look, we have to go get a shortstop or a center fielder,'" Mozeliak said at the organization's end-of-season press conference on Tuesday. "For us, we have a talented team, but when you look at our club, no one stood out as an All-Star, that threat. I think for all of us up here, it's trying to find what that might look like."
Despite their long run of success in drafting and cultivating talent, the Cardinals have struggled to develop that sort of impact bat they once had in Jose Pujols and, more recently, Matthew Holliday.
They thought Oscar Taveras could be that next guy before Taveras passed away tragically after the 2014 season. Success has also, ironically, hamstrung the organization, as it has precluded the Cardinals from engaging in a dedicated rebuild where they could position themselves with early Draft picks. The Cardinals haven't picked higher than 19th overall since 2008.
And so the Cardinals will spend the offseason attempting to fill that void, looking in both the trade and free-agent markets for a fit.
"That's what we have to decide: is it better to go spend just cash or prospects?" Mozeliak said. "I think the good news for us is we do have both, so ultimately that will give us the ability to navigate what we think is smartest."
The Cardinals also have flexibility as far as where they can slot in such a bat. First base, third base and right field would seem the obvious places, but Mozeliak candidly stated on Tuesday that the only position player penned into a specific spot for 2018 is catcher Yadier Molina.
"If we're successful, things will look a little different because clearly what we had this year didn't get us to the finish line that we wanted," Mozeliak said. "And so, the goal of our group and our team is to make changes that we feel can better our chances."
There are needs, of course, beyond adding a bat. The back end of the bullpen needs fortifying, and the rotation will be an area where Mozeliak said the organization will explore adding depth. The Cardinals will attempt to proceed creatively in both pursuits.
That includes determining whether to meet the market cost of acquiring a proven closer or give a pitcher the opportunity to grow into one.
"We have to evolve with what the market offers and what the options are," general manager Michael Girsch said. "Certainly we will evaluate the brand-name closers in the market and see what that market looks like and see if there is a fit. Ideally, you don't pay retail for closers if you can avoid it, and we've been lucky for the last long period of not having to dip into that end of the market. But we don't have an heir apparent at the moment, so we will have to evaluate what our options are."
Every move the Cardinals make will be fueled by the motivation of wanting to pass this time next season preparing for a postseason series, not a long winter ahead.
"Look, we do not find this acceptable," Mozeliak said of the club's 83-win season. "We certainly understand the expectations of our city, of our region, of what they expect of this organization. All of us know there's pressure from that. Ultimately, it's our responsibility to get ourselves back."