With roster nearly set, Cards keeping low Meetings profile
Right-handed-hitting first baseman one of club's few needs
SAN DIEGO -- The Cardinals arrived at the Winter Meetings this week in a seemingly enviable position, with the majority of their offseason work already wrapped up and their roster mostly built for 2015. It also positions the organization for an off-the-radar stay in San Diego.
Discarding validity to any rumors connecting them to the big-ticket free-agent starters and suggesting that little traction has been made in finding a fit for the open bench spot, general manager John Mozeliak sat in his hotel room late Monday afternoon looking relaxed and without incentive to have to get something done this week. The only notable activity he had to offer about his day was that he spent time setting up meetings with agents for the next two days.
"We don't have a lot of things we need to accomplish," Mozeliak acknowledged.
The anticipation throughout the first day of the Winter Meetings was around when and to whom the first free-agent starting pitcher would fall. The market has been mostly paralyzed in anticipation of Jon Lester coming off the board, which is expected soon. The Cardinals made no serious pursuit of Lester, nor do they sound like a club preparing to make any overtures at the other blue chip free-agent starter, Max Scherzer, who happens to be a St. Louis native.
Reiterating his desire to see Carlos Martinez get a crack at a rotation job and a desire to only add a starting pitcher for depth purposes, Mozeliak downplayed the organization's interest in spending big on Scherzer, or any other high-priced free agent.
"We don't have a glaring need to do it," said Mozeliak, who already has Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and John Lackey written into the 2015 rotation. "Just to start to chase something because we feel we have some bandwidth with payroll only makes sense if you truly have a need. At this point, we still feel like the guys we're running out in our rotation are pretty good. In terms of going out and necessarily making that large investment, I still think it's the [final years of the contract] that end up being more painful than the first couple. That's what we're trying to avoid."
Instead, the Cardinals seem to be prepared to fill their final rotation spot in one of two ways. The first would be Martinez, who Mozeliak described as "pitching with a purpose" and at a point in his young career where the Cardinals want to better evaluate his long-term viability as a starting pitcher.
The other would be to make a smaller (and later) splash in the free-agent pool to snag a starting pitcher after the market has settled. Adding depth to their rotation would also help the Cardinals protect themselves in case of injury.
"We will maybe look to add something in January, though that's not a for sure," Mozeliak said. "That's always the time that we tend to try and be a little more opportunistic with what we do. I would just be looking for someone that adds depth to what we already have. I'm not saying I'm searching for that. What I'm saying is that that might be the time if we want to bring in an extra arm to when we might do it."
While the Cardinals see this as an opportunistic approach, there is more of a definitive need to add a right-handed-hitting first baseman. That would address the final deficiency on the position player side. The pool to pick from is thin, however, and the Cardinals are finding it tough to sell a part-time role to players who are seeing if an everyday job is available elsewhere.
Finding a player who can bring power and/or positional versatility in this role would be a plus.
"I think that's a tough market right now," Mozeliak said. "When you look at how many at-bats we can offer, where we can get them from excluding any injury, it's not a lot. It's a tough message that we're sending."