ST. LOUIS -- Even after having their offseason plans dramatically altered with the late October death of outfielder Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals were able to act quickly to fill what became their largest roster hole. As a result, the Cardinals have the ability to spend the upcoming Winter Meetings as opportunistic shoppers, but not ones desperate to act.
The mid-November trade in which the Cardinals landed outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden satisfied the organization's need to find a starting right fielder and fortify the bullpen. This decision to move quickly to address needs mirrors the way the Cardinals went about their offseason work a year ago, when they signed Jhonny Peralta and completed a four-player trade with the Angels prior to the Winter Meetings.
That led to a quiet Winter Meetings stay in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., something that could be repeated next week in San Diego, this year's host city for baseball's annual winter event.
The Cardinals have already changed the look of their lineup with the addition of Heyward, who has the flexibility to fit in any number of spots in the batting order and who should help spark an offense that ranked ninth in the National League in runs scored last season.
Just days after the deal, manager Mike Matheny described Heyward as a "difference-maker" and a "superstar-caliber player." Heyward is also the last starting-position-player piece the Cardinals needed.
Now, the desire is to add depth. The Cardinals have already acquired two players -- Dean Anna and Ty Kelly -- to deepen their infield options. The organization is still open to adding a right-handed power bat to serve as a threat off the bench and potentially be a platoon partner with first baseman Matt Adams, should Adams continue to struggle against left-handed pitching.
"That's something we'll definitely explore if we can find something," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Every team in baseball is looking for offense. If we're chasing something in a limited role, we're probably not going to be the place most people want to end up. But having said that, we're still an attractive organization, and we'll look at ways we can try to help that."
Things seem a little more complex on the pitching end, where the Cardinals don't feel they have to make a move but may do so anyway. With the trade of Shelby Miller to the Braves, the Cardinals have discussed allowing Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. But with a fertile pitching market this offseason, don't discount the possibility of the Cardinals still going outside the organization to add to that pitching depth.
While unlikely to become a serious bidder for the top pitching talent available, the Cardinals could strike in that middle-tier market in order to give themselves the option of keeping Martinez and/or Gonzales in the bullpen at the start of the 2015 season. Additional pitching depth would also help the Cardinals guard against potential injury.
As for the look of the bullpen, the Cardinals have already been active in securing some new relief options. Desiring to stay away from the highest-priced bullpen options in free agency, the Cardinals acquired Walden via trade and then signed veteran righty Matt Belisle to a one-year deal on Tuesday.
With those two in place to help mitigate the losses of free agents Pat Neshek and Jason Motte, the Cardinals will likely only add another reliever if the cost is low.
"I'm not saying we're going to be able to replicate what we did with Neshek," Mozeliak said. "But [we'll] at least remain open to opportunities if there's something that makes sense for us."
None of the Cardinals' own five free agents -- Neshek, Jason Motte, Mark Ellis, A.J. Pierzynski and Justin Masterson -- have signed elsewhere yet, though the Cardinals are not expected to retain any of the five.
As the Cardinals look to finish building their 2015 roster, they can do so without financial restrictions. The organization has the flexibility to increase its payroll (which was around $111 million on Opening Day in 2014) and anticipates doing so.