Cards are unbowed by division foes' busy Winter Meetings

Cards are unbowed by division foes' busy Winter Meetings

SAN DIEGO -- While the Cardinals' brass appears ready to return to St. Louis with a roster unchanged during their Winter Meetings stay, the club can't say the same of its road to a third straight National League Central title.

The Cardinals' quiet week has contrasted the splashy San Diego stay of its division competitors, in particular the Cubs, who lured free-agent starter Jon Lester to Chicago with a six-year, $155 million deal. Along with the recent addition of manager Joe Maddon, the signing of Jason Hammel and a trade for catcher Miguel Montero, it marks another bold move that indicates the Cubs' stay as the division bottom dweller is over.

Winter Meetings action

Day 4: Dec. 11 Transaction Official?
OF Matt Kemp
C Tim Federowicz
Traded to Padres No
C Yasmani Grandal
RHP Joe Wieland
RHP Zach Eflin
Traded to Dodgers No
OF Yoenis Cespedes
RHP Alex Wilson
Traded to Tigers Yes
RHP Rick Porcello Traded to Red Sox Yes
RHP Ervin Santana Four-year deal with Twins No
LHP Mat Latos Traded to Marlins No
RHP Anthony DeSclafani
C Chad Wallach
Traded to Reds No
RHP Justin Masterson One-year deal with Red Sox No
RHP Alfredo Simon Traded to Tigers Yes
RHP Jonathon Crawford
IF Eugenio Suarez
Traded to Reds Yes
LHP Ross Detwiler Traded to Rangers No
OF John Mayberry Jr. One-year deal with Mets No
RHP Andre Rienzo Traded to Marlins Yes
LHP Dan Jennings Traded to White Sox Yes
"As an outsider looking in, they certainly have their foot on the pedal," general manager John Mozeliak said of the Cubs on Wednesday evening. "Obviously, when you watched their club play this year, they were trending upwards. And obviously some of their offseason moves have made them stronger. But one of the things we try to focus on is our own club and not really worry about what our competitors are doing. The Central division has gotten stronger."

While the NL Central has sent at least two teams to the postseason each of the last four years, the Cubs have been the one team left out in each. Since last posting a winning season in 2009, Chicago has had five straight fifth-place finishes in the division. That has cost the longtime Cards-Cubs rivalry some luster, too, though that appears on the precipice of change.

The Cubs will almost certainly parade their big free-agent prize out on Opening Day, setting up for nationally televised Sunday night matchup between aces Adam Wainwright and Lester. It will be the first of 19 games between the two rivals in 2015 and the way in which Major League Baseball officially opens its new season.

"I think anytime your division is getting stronger, it's good," Mozeliak said. "For many years, I think the National League Central was not looked upon as one of the big ones. Our success over time has brought some credibility to the division. Then of course with Pittsburgh coming onto a competitive scene as well, I think people look at our division as there is no easy day when you play the Central."

The Pirates have had an active week as well, following up their recent signing of A.J. Burnett by convincing Francisco Liriano to stay and further fortify the rotation. Pittsburgh also upgraded their 'pen in a Wednesday trade for Phillies reliever Antonio Bastardo.

"I don't see anybody in the Central going anywhere except getting better," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "You're watching every team commit to trying to push the needle forward and teams you've expected in the past have been good, and we'll watch some teams who maybe have been overlooked. There are going to be more in that mix."

While the Cubs celebrated their improved rotation, Mozeliak continued with business as usual. Unwilling to let the activity around him spur him to make a move for the sake of a headline, he spent most of the day in MLB-sponsored meetings. That left little time to even meet with agents, though Mozeliak did acknowledge having a brief conversation with John Lackey's representative.

The purpose of that engagement was to inform Lackey about how the Cardinals might be willing to restructure his 2015 contract. Lackey is in line to earn the Major League minimum as part of a contract clause triggered a few years ago by injury.

The final event of the Cardinals' Winter Meetings stay will be Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. Mozeliak said there was a "low probability" the club would make a selection, though the team does have an open spot on the roster if it chooses to make a pick. Mozeliak added that he hasn't heard much chatter about any of the Cardinals' unprotected Minor Leaguers being snagged by other clubs.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.| This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.