USA TODAY Sports Weekly

MLB or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ports:

Cubs’ rise, poach­ing of ros­ter can’t sap club’s con­fi­dence

- John Per­rotto @JPer­rotto Spe­cial for USA TO­DAY Sports Sports · College Sports · MLB Baseball · Cactus League · Grapefruit League · St. Louis Cardinals · Philadelphia Phillies · Philadelphia · National League Central · National League (Baseball) · Pittsburgh Pirates · Pittsburgh · Chicago Cubs · Tommy John · San Diego Padres · San Diego · John Mozeliak · Kansas · Kansas City · Minor League Baseball · Missouri · Cleveland Indians · Baseball · Jason Heyward · John Lackey · Mike Leake · Jedd Gyorko · Brandon Moss · Matt Adams · Yadier Molina · Kansas City Royals · Carson Kelly · Springfield · Kolten Wong

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

 ?? PETER CASEY, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Pey­ton Man­ning is on the Pan­thers’.
PETER CASEY, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Pey­ton Man­ning is on the Pan­thers’.
 ?? JEFF CURRY, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Car­di­nals third base­man Matt Car­pen­ter con­tin­ues to take steps for­ward.
JEFF CURRY, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Car­di­nals third base­man Matt Car­pen­ter con­tin­ues to take steps for­ward.

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