St. Louis Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny conducted their annual end-of-season press conference Thursday at Busch Stadium.
For both, it was a session with the media they had hoped would not transpire until the first week of November, preferably after the Cardinals won their 12th World Championship.
However, the Cardinals’ 3-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the best-of-five National League Division Series expedited the process, and here are a few of the topics discussed.
1. Jason Heyward is a pending free agent. Will the Cardinals re-sign the right fielder?
Mozeliak: “We haven’t focused on any of the free agents to date. We’ll begin that process next week. Jason was a tremendous fit on this club. He did exactly what we had hoped he would do. He was a great teammate and he performed well. If we have the ability to make it happen, we’re certainly going to try. The best compliment I can give Jason is the fact that he was willing to hit anywhere, and gave us that flexibility.”
2. The Cardinals ranked 11th in the NL in both home runs (137) and runs (647). Does adding offense need to be an emphasis in the offseason?
Mozeliak: “I think when you look at the makeup of this roster as it’s currently constructed, you could imagine an uptick in offense. You’re hoping everybody is taking that step forward and maturing. But you look at our roster and you could argue that there are a couple of players that are on the back side of their career, but you could also argue there are probably five or six that could be in that lineup that still have a lot more upside. That’s what we need to focus on in terms of how we structure things. We do need to improve our offense, but I don’t think it’s as drastic as maybe other people interpret it.”
3. Right-hander John Lackey will be a free agent and the Cardinals have an option on left-hander Jaime Garcia. Will both pitchers return in 2016?
Mozeliak: “We haven’t made any decisions yet on strategy. Obviously, both had very great seasons for us. The impact Garcia made on our roster was extremely positive, especially if we were having this conversation in February. I don’t think any of us thought he was going to contribute, especially the way he did. And Lackey kind of did what we hoped he would do and be that top-of-the-rotation, step-up, big-game pitcher. He did that.”
4. Left fielder Matt Holliday will be 36 in January. Can he still be a productive player after enduring two quadriceps injuries?
Matheny: “We’re talking about an All-Star this year who had a very good first half. There are some thing he’s going to have to continue to do to fight the natural process of becoming more experienced. He’s a guy who’s as disciplined as anybody I’ve ever seen, the way he works and his diet. He’s going to have to continue to challenge and push that to be able to answer the bell physically. I think you see some things he’s able to do that put him in a little different class than a lot of other players. The way the ball comes off his bat is unique. Being able to continue to have the bat speed and the body that can handle the muscle mass he has ... It gets more difficult over time for every single one of these players. I believe Matt Holliday is one of those guys who can push the limits of that as well as anybody.”
5. Could Stephen Piscotty be the regular first baseman next season?
Matheny: “It’s pretty obvious we’re going to use him wherever he’s going to fit in best with his bat. He’s been such an impressive kid to watch, and I believe he’ll be a plus defender in the outfield. If it’s our necessity to have him improve at first base, I think he’ll end up being a plus defender there as well. He’s the kind of player that figures out how to get it done. This season, all the way across the board, he validated that. We like Stephen in the outfield a lot. We’ll see how the rest of it plays out.
6. With the Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates positioned to be contenders for years to come, have the stakes risen in the NL Central?
Mozeliak: “We don’t spend a lot of time necessarily trying to keep up with the Joneses, but you have to be cognizant of what your division looks like. Clearly, Pittsburgh and Chicago are built for now and the future. But so are the Cardinals. I think Adam Wainwright said it best: ‘We’re not going anywhere.’ We’re going to spend the next three months trying to get better. And guess what? After that, we’ll continue to try to get better. You look at the Central, we get it. It’s tough. And candidly, it’s probably going to get tougher because Cincinnati is going to commit to it and so is Milwaukee. It’s a tough division to play in right now.”
7. Catcher Yadier Molina underwent surgery on his left wrist Thursday, but what about the other injured players heading into the offseason?
Mozeliak: “Matt Belisle will be having his elbow scoped Monday. It sounds like it’s going to be a simple bone chip removal and he should be fine. Carlos Martinez is going to have a normal offseason. He will spend the majority of his time in Jupiter doing therapy. But that’s more just to keep an eye on him and to allow him a safe haven to rehab with our trusted employees. (Jordan) Walden is going to rehab in Texas and as of right now, should be ready to go in spring training. (Randal) Grichuk and Holliday both should have normal offseasons. And from everything I’ve been told (about Jon Jay), everything is normal.”
8. What stood out the most about the Cardinals?
Mozeliak: “The ability to deal with adversity. Nobody ever complained. Mike and I talked about (the injuries) day in and day out, but the pity party never lasted more than a few minutes and people were able to move on. Mike talks about players knowing how to win and having the ability to win, and that is a remarkable trait. When you talk about players and identify talent, and you come back to that one phrase, ‘He’s a winning player,’ that’s a good one and that means a lot. I think that’s what a lot of our 25-man (roster) looked like.”
9. Outfielder Peter Bourjos’ two years in St. Louis have been a disappointment. Do the Cardinals envision him being with the team next year?
Mozeliak: “I don’t think it ever worked to the point where we were hopeful of, but that doesn’t mean we’re at the point to give up, either. We’ll reassess and look at what our opportunities look like over the next six weeks or so.”
10. Will there be any changes on the coaching staff for 2016?
Mozeliak: “All our coaches will be offered contracts to come back. Hopefully, we can wrap all that up the early part of next week.”
11. Who was going to pitch Game 5 of the NL Division Series?
Matheny: “Depending on how that fourth one went, it was going to be a mixture of quite a few guys. Had we not had to use Adam Wainwright (in Game 4), he would have been in consideration for going as long as he could. I think he did a great job; what an incredible story. Lance Lynn was still in that mix, and we still had a very fresh Tyler Lyons. And Garcia was in that conversation also. We were going to use whoever we had to get through it.”
12. Randy Choate’s contract has expired. Do the Cardinals need another left-handed specialist?
Mozeliak: “I don’t think, as a group, we have to replace a specialist. Candidly, maybe more versatility in the bullpen makes more sense anyway. The fact that we have Lyons and Marco (Gonzales) possibly competing, they would fit that profile of being able to go more than just a hitter, maybe more than just an inning. We also have (Dean) Kiekhefer down in Triple-A. I do feel he can give you that left-on-left matchup if you need it. I think, from an internal standpoint, we have options.”