LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Day 2 of the Winter Meetings neared an end Tuesday, the Cardinals noted a sense of optimism that sufficient groundwork has been laid to execute a trade for their desired offensive upgrade in the coming days.
"We're not at the goal line. But we've made progress," general manager Michael Girsch said. "These days are ebb and flow. Conversations come and then die quickly, then new ones come. But we do feel like we're optimistic that we're moving in the right direction on a couple things."
That's not a guarantee, Girsch cautioned, that the Cardinals will depart the Winter Meetings with another item officially checked off their to-do list. But there is an increasing sense that the club could return to St. Louis with the framework for a deal in place, just as it did a year ago with free-agent outfielder William Fowler.
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"It seems like when we talk about getting things done at the meetings, a lot of times they bleed over a few days after," Girsch said. "I feel like there's momentum for us internally to feel like we've gotten something done or are very close to getting something done, but … I'm not promising anything by noon Thursday when I get on the flight home."
The Cardinals continue to focus their attention on the trade market, with Girsch describing free agents as "secondary" options at this point. And their preference remains to target players over whom they'd have multiple years of control. Marlins outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich continue to interest the organization.
President of baseball operations John Mozeliak wouldn't rule out trading for a player whose contract expires at the end of next season. But he also acknowledged that it's far from ideal to simply punt the Cardinals' search for a long-term solution to next winter.
"For us to chase something," Mozeliak said, "we want to feel like it's going to be more impactful."
That could temper interest in infielders Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson, both of whom have been loosely connected to the Cardinals.
In the past, the Cardinals have gambled on short-term commitments, believing that getting a player to St. Louis could sell the organization as an ideal permanent fit. It worked on Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Matthew Holliday.
But the Cardinals did not have similar success two years ago with Jason Heyward, and they're aware that even a positive short-term experience in St. Louis may not outweigh the lure of a more lucrative contract elsewhere. That's where acquisition cost comes in.
"In order to make a trade like that, we'd have to assume that we weren't going to re-sign the player and be comfortable with the trade assuming we won't," Girsch said. "You have to get your head around it that way, or you're just setting yourself up for disappointment or putting yourself in an awkward spot when you go to negotiate and you feel like you have to sign him. It's just not a good place where you make a deal assuming a second thing is going to happen."
While landing another hitter continues to be a priority, the Cardinals have continued parallel conversations related to pitching upgrades. However, that might not necessarily include the addition of a closer. That's because the Cardinals believe Luke Gregerson, whose two-year deal is expected to be finalized this week, could fill that ninth-inning void.
"I would say we're looking for bullpen upgrades," Girsch said. "That could be a closer. That could be something else."
The club has reached out to some of its own free-agent relievers, including Juan Nicasio, and it's exploring the trade market for possible upgrades as well. Girsch downplayed the Cardinals' interest in signing a free-agent closer such as Wade Davis or Greg Holland.
"We're still sort of watching, discussing if we can get something else done," Girsch said. "There's some movement in that [reliever] market, but not a ton. There hasn't been much clarity."