ST. LOUIS -- With a month to go until Spring Training is scheduled to begin in Jupiter, Fla., the Cardinals typically use this weekend as their official kickoff to the season ahead, having players and coaches come to St. Louis for the annual Winter Warm-Up as they meet with fans and cycle through the media-room podium throughout the weekend.
The organization reworked the event this year, sending it online and scheduling panels hosted by moderators. On Sunday, the relievers chatted with Fox Sports Midwest’s Dan McLaughlin, outfielders discussed their play with KMOX’s John Rooney, manager Mike Shildt and bench coach Oliver Marmol spoke with MLB Network’s Fran Charles about game planning and a panel of Cardinals couples talked with KMOV’s Brooke Grimsley about balancing baseball and life at home.
But the event arrived with the roster unfinished other factors still up in the air. The Cardinals are the only club yet to add a player via free agency or trade to the Major League roster this offseason, and the two free agents prioritized to bring back, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, remain unsigned.
In a prerecorded interview with McLaughlin, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak acknowledged the “angst” he senses from fans while repeating his request for patience as the organization heads toward the 2021 season with financial restrictions after a shortened '20 season and reduced revenue. The club remains in contact with Wainwright and Molina’s representation and is still interested in adding a hitter from the outside.
Bringing the longtime battery back was a topic brought up throughout Winter Warm-Up.
“We appreciate and love those guys a lot,” Shildt said during his game-planning panel. “We also recognize it is a business, and real dollars are involved. Mo’s mentioned them being legacy players, but not only are they legacy players, they’re players that can still contribute. The economics are real. The team took a big step back last year not having fans. I think everybody’s intention would be to have them both back and remain Cardinals.”
The market, though, has been slow -- especially for the Cardinals.
“The more time you can buy to where you understand when you can open up your gates and have people come to your stadium is going to drive a lot of this,” Mozeliak said. “I think if we were doing this on stage in a normal stage, people would ask, ‘What’s happening in the free-agent market?’ There’s certainly been a handful of teams that are being very active and aggressive about what they’re trying to do. I think there’s been other teams that are concerned about revenue. Naturally, there’s going to be that drag on what happens in that market. … But there’s going to be a lot of baseball transactions between now and the beginning of camp.”
For now, the Cardinals are expecting camp to open on time, with pitchers and catchers reporting on Feb. 17, although Mozeliak acknowledged he was “reluctant to hit the go button on what to do and when to head down,” because schedules can change. Shildt and his staff have been laying out plans for spring, with a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C ready for whatever protocols greet them. The Cards are expecting to have 75-80 players at the big league camp, and Minor League camp will not be running at the same time -- giving the big leaguers more room to space out and more fields to keep a distance.
Mozeliak said he’s “very confident” the Minor League season will happen this year, adding that he hopes to have those players report for Spring Training in April with games beginning in May.
The Cardinals have five events scheduled for the final day of Winter Warm-Up on Monday, and then they will pivot toward spring. That means finalizing plans for camp, finalizing plans for the season -- and finalizing the roster.
“It’s hard to put a bow on our club,” Mozeliak said. “There’s still time. There’s still things that may or may not happen. … There’s no doubt the [National League] Central seems like it’s opened. Hopefully we can take advantage of that, and that would be good news for us.”
Hicks “ready to go”
In a panel with Cardinals relievers on Sunday morning, bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd said that Jordan Hicks is “doing really well, feeling good” on his way to coming back to the big leagues in 2021. The young closer, who missed a year and a half due to Tommy John surgery and opting out of the '20 season, will be monitored closely and be careful with his workload, but Eversgerd said that Hicks is “ready to go.”
This discussion happened right after Ryan Helsley told moderator Dan McLaughlin about a story from Helsley’s rookie year, in 2019, when Hicks was getting ready to go close out a game.
“He’s getting loose, and he runs up the mound and gives a loud yell,” Helsley said. “And he’s bent over the rail, Gerdy’s panicking, thinks he’s hurt, then Hicks gives him a little smile. So he’s about to go into the game, close out this ballgame in the eighth inning, and he’s out there playing jokes, acting like he’s tweaked his ankle or hamstring.”
Eversgerd just shook his head: “My heart stopped,” he said.