Center field will be first domino to fall for Cardinals

BUSCH STADIUM - As the St. Louis Cardinals held their end of season press conference this morning, John Mozeliak stated he felt the biggest difference from last year to this year was the amount of runs allowed.

And while the pitching and defense went hand-in-hand in creating that difference, the St. Louis Cardinals General Manager explained that neither is the biggest domino that must fall before the Cardinals can put together their offseason plans.

“I think for us, it’s going to be what can we do to upgrade in center versus keeping Grichuk there,” answered Mozeliak. “If we don’t find a good solution then you just keep Grichuk there and you put someone else in left. But I feel for us, it’s really going to be exploring what that trade and free agent market looks like before we make that determination.”

This is a stark contrast to the feeling going into last offseason as Grichuk is a former Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove winner and has played 157 of his 239 big league games in center field.

Photos: Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk

“Defensively, we were pretty confident he would be an above-average defender,” said Mozeliak, who expressed Grichuk’s bat still has All-Star potential. “I do feel like maybe just the pressures of being that everyday player this year, Mike alluded to some of these younger players getting thrown into the fire and he was one of them. There’s a maturity, growth pattern he needs to follow as well but still think he’s an elite-type talent and certainly don’t want to give up on him.”

While center field may be the initial focus, it’s not the only area the Cardinals would like to improve defensively.

“You look at the personnel on this roster, it’s not like we have a ton of flexibility with it,” said Mozeliak. “I do think somebody like a Diaz is going to be more comfortable next year but if there was a way to add some protection up the middle we should consider it. And then again, we have to decide what we want centerfield to look like. Ultimately, those are the discussions we will have over the next few weeks and that will set the agenda for the offseason.”

As noted previously, the starting pitching fell short of expectations in 2016, but Mozeliak also pointed to circumstances that make it difficult to simply blame the rotation.

“It’s hard to look back at 2016 and say they didn’t pitch well because a lot of the stress that was put on them were extra outs, extra pitches and if we can clean that up, I think all of them benefit from that,” said Mozeliak.

“In terms of trying to improve your rotation this offseason — via free agency — I think is going to be extremely difficult,” he said. “Is there trade candidates out there, possibly. But when you have a Reyes and a Carlos Martinez, you’re in a pretty good spot to build around. Adam Wainwright is still an amazing leader, still a key part of this rotation and I do feel like he’s going to benefit from a normal and healthy offseason.”

There is also the return of Lance Lynn, who Mozeliak described as having “laser-focus” to the rotation, while the status has not yet been determined for Jaime Garcia. For now, Michael Wacha is still being looked at as a starter. Factor in Mike Leake and Alex Reyes, and that gives a base of six starters to work from.

Medical reports on Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney are expected in a few weeks, which will determine their status headed into Spring Training.

Photos: Cardinals starter Lance Lynn


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