USA TODAY Sports Weekly
MLB organization reports:
Cubs’ rise, poaching of roster can’t sap club’s confidence
Cardinals seek to replace missing parts from within.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ 2015 season was impressive, a division series elimination in the postseason notwithstanding.
The Cardinals went 100-62 to become the first major league team to reach tripledigit wins since the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011.
St. Louis also won its third consecutive National League Central title, fending off the teams with the second- and third-best records in the major leagues — the Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64) and Chicago Cubs (97-65).
Yet a four-game ouster vs. Chicago in the best-of-five National League Division Series and the Cubs’ splashy offseason — including taking outfielder Jason Heyward and veteran starting pitcher John Lackey from St. Louis in free agency — have made the Cardinals seem like yesterday’s news.
The Cardinals’ only major move was signing right-hander Mike Leake to a fiveyear, $80 million contract as a free agent. They likely like wouldn’t have made that move if not for Lance Lynn needing Tommy John elbow surgery that will cost the veteran starter the 2016 season.
“They took some guys from our team that were big parts of it that we’re going to have to replace,” third baseman Matt Carpenter says of the Cubs. “I think we’ve got the pieces to replace them. It’s going to come down to the end, not to mention that the Pirates are going to be right in the thick of it, as well.”
A big surprise of the offseason has been that the Cardinals did not upgrade an offense that was 24th among the 30 major league teams in runs last season with an average of four a game. The loss of Heyward seemingly will exacerbate the problem, though the acquisition of utility infielder Jedd Gyorko from the San Diego Padres is expected to bolster the bench and help keep the starting infielders better rested than last season.
The Cardinals are counting on continued improvement from outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, a bounceback year by first baseman-outfielder Brandon Moss and better health for first baseman Matt Adams.
“If you can imagine multiple cars in your garage, and you seem to (use) the same one every day. At some point you may ask your-
self, ‘Well, does the other one work?’ ” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak says. “You have to give it a chance. You have to go test-drive it. You’ve got to let it out and find out if it’s what you thought it was.
“Whenever you simply go out and get that proven commodity, it could be because you need it (or) it could be because you ignore that because you want to give a person that chance. I feel like that’s the crossroad we’re at.”
Where the Cardinals stand at each position (*prospect):
uCatcher: Yadier Molina’s status is undecided as he had a second surgery on a torn left thumb ligament Dec. 15, an injury he suffered Sept. 20. Molina is expected to have the thumb in a cast through midFebruary, which leaves doubt whether the eight-time Gold Glove winner and seventime All-Star can be ready for opening day. The Cardinals moved to improve their catching depth when they signed veteran Brayan Pena and traded backup Tony Cruz to the Kansas City Royals. The Cardinals are looking to add another catcher. Carson Kelly is shaping up to be Molina’s heir apparent and will begin the season at Class AA Springfield (Mo.).
Depth chart: Molina, Pena, *Mike Ohlman, Eric Fryer, *Kelly.
uFirst base: Adams tore his right quadriceps muscle May 26, did not return to action until Sept. 10 and was limited to 60 games. Even before being injured, Adams struggled. He will be pushed by Moss for the starting job in spring training. The Cardinals decided to bring arbitrationeligible Moss back at $8.25 million, though he hit .250 with four home runs in 51 games last season after being acquired from the Cleveland Indians in a trade. Adams and Moss are both left-handed hitters, making a platoon out of the question. Piscotty will likely move in from right field to start at first base when the Cardinals face left-handed starters.
Depth chart: Adams, Moss, Piscotty, Gyorko, *Jonathan Rodriguez.
uSecond base: Kolten Wong took another step forward last year in his first full major league season and showed the star potential that caused the Cardinals to select him in the first round of the 2011