ST. LOUIS -- A gradual shift in power within the National League Central -- first favoring the Cubs, later the Brewers -- forced the Cardinals to make an aggressive counter this winter. The subsequent moves, most notably the additions of Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller, lead to one definitive conclusion:
The organization is all-in on 2019.
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That's not to suggest the Cardinals haven't had their eyes trained on a postseason pursuit in recent years. But there's been a boldness in the club's activity this winter that highlights even more of an urgency to win now.
Since Mike Matheny's dismissal last season, scrutiny for the Cardinals' recent shortcomings -- which include the club's longest postseason drought in two decades -- has fallen on the front office. It thus became the Cardinals' offseason task to fill holes, reduce roster redundancy and aggressively complement a roster that finished third in the NL Central last year with an 88-74 record.
"We knew we couldn't have a stagnant offseason," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "Ultimately, the way you should think about the 2019 Cardinals is just that -- 2019. And in terms of what 2020 looks like or 2021, I assure you we'll think about that and work through that. But winning does matter this year."
That's why the Cardinals dealt away a package of young players to add Goldschmidt despite no assurances that he'll be in St. Louis beyond this season. It also nudged the Cards back into the deep end of the bullpen market after a run of paltry returns on multiyear deals for relievers. They committed a guaranteed $25 million to Miller.
The additions, the Cardinals contend, will complement an ascension of young pitching and other key position players already in place. They hope new manager Mike Shildt and his creatively assembled coaching staff will jell it together.
"It feels different this year than in years past," said Matt Carpenter, a top 10 NL MVP finisher last season. "You look at this club and who we have and what we've acquired, combined with what we saw last year of some of these young guys that made a splash and then some of the veterans who have been here awhile, then with the new manager and what he was able to do for us -- you put that all together and there is reason for excitement. I think there's a reason why the pulse around here feels a little different."
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"The team we had near the end of the season was a good team," added Kolten Wong. "We were a good team, but we were missing pieces. Coming into this year, we're not missing anything. So there's no excuse for us to come in this year not excited, not confident."
The recalibration within the organization was noticeable to the newcomers, too.
Goldschmidt, when asked to describe the expectations leading the team into the season, began his answer with a four-word declarative statement: "Win the World Series."
Of course, this all-in dive on 2019 doesn't completely erase the uncertainty that will loom over the organization throughout the season. Three members of the team's projected Opening Day rotation are due to be free agents at the end of the year. So are Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna. There will be discussions about possible extensions for some within this group and exercises in how to plug inevitable holes on the horizon.
But that's not the focus now as the club readies for the start of Spring Training and eyes a climb back to the top of what could be baseball's most competitive division, top to bottom, this season.
Excitement is palpable. Expectations are bold. Anything short of October will be a disappointment.
"I'm 100 percent sure that we have what we need to win the [World] Series," veteran catcher Yadier Molina said. "This year is different. We feel the difference right now. This year, we've got to have it. No excuses."