Constructing a winner: Cardinals

How St. Louis used the Draft, trades, free agency and international signings to build its playoff team

Constructing a winner: Cardinals

MLBPipeline.com is breaking down how each of the postseason teams was built, looking at the composition of projected Division Series rosters.

It wasn't long after the St. Louis Cardinals were eliminated from last year's National League Championship Series that the team's front office began to map out the 2015 season.

"When we were sitting down for our strategic meeting, at the time we thought there would be very little change," said general manager John Mozeliak. "After that meeting Oscar Taveras passed, and all of a sudden we decided we need to take a different approach and strategy to how we wanted to prepare."

With an unexpected vacancy in right field, Mozeliak and company traded for Jason Heyward from the Braves as part of a four-player deal. The trade set in motion another hugely successful year for the franchise, as the Cardinals are back in the postseason for the fifth straight year after winning a third consecutive NL Central title. Both streaks are the longest in club history.

That the Cardinals finished the regular season with a Major League-leading 100 wins is impressive in and of itself. But the fact that they did so despite playing large portions of the year without Adam Wainwright, Matt Adams and Matt Holliday was a testament to the quality of depth within the organization.

St. Louis starters paced the National League in both wins and ERA and allowed the second-fewest home runs, while the team's bullpen ranked second in ERA. That success and consistency helped compensate for the club's struggles at the plate.

"It really became the strength of our club and allowed us to stay in games," said Mozeliak. "So even though we weren't scoring a lot of runs, we were also giving up so few, which enabled us to capitalize on it."

There were other notable acquisitions along the way, as the Cardinals plugged holes around the non-waiver Trade Deadline with smaller deals for Brandon Moss, Steve Cishek and Jonathan Broxton. The club also never hesitated to call upon prospects, which ultimately enabled Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham to become major contributors over the course of the season.

HOMEGROWN
Player, how acquired, year

Matt Carpenter, Draft, 2009 (13th)
Tony Cruz, Draft, 2007 (26th)
Jaime Garcia, Draft, 2005 (22nd)
Jon Jay, Draft, 2006 (2nd)
Greg Garcia, Draft, 2010 (7th)
Lance Lynn, Draft, 2008 (1st supp.)
Tyler Lyons, Draft, 2010 (9th)
Seth Maness, Draft, 2011 (11th)
Yadier Molina, Draft, 2000 (4th)
Tommy Pham, Draft, 2006 (16th)
Stephen Piscotty, Draft, 2012 (1st supp.)
Trevor Rosenthal, Draft, 2009 (21st)
Kevin Siegrist, Draft, 2008 (41st)
Michael Wacha, Draft, 2012 (1st)
Kolten Wong, Draft, 2011 (1st)

Wainwright's injury created a spot in the starting rotation for the oft-injured Garcia, who made the most of the opportunity by logging 129 innings, his highest workload since 2011.

"When Wainwright went down, there were a lot of negative thoughts about our club," noted Mozeliak. "At that time, Garcia was knocking on the door, showing he was healthy and ready to go, and he's pitched extremely well. If we didn't have him, we might have been in trouble."

Both Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha logged at least 30 starts during the regular season, and Carlos Martinez would have as well if not for a late-season shoulder injury. Kevin Siegrist emerged as one of the top setup men in baseball, pacing all relievers in appearances, while closer Trevor Rosenthal set a career-high in saves.

Matt Carpenter paced the offense in most categories as part of another monster campaign, but what really stood out was the two-time All Star's career-best 28 home runs, especially considering he had hit 25 in 436 games during his first four years in the league. The Cardinals also received significant contributions from Piscotty and Pham, with both rookies giving manager Mike Matheny increased roster flexibility in the absence of Adams and Holliday.

"The prolonged injury to Holliday forced us to make a decision on Piscotty, and that opened up the door," said Mozeliak. "Clearly he took advantage of it and ended up being a very productive hitter in the middle of our lineup."

TRADES
Player, year, acquired from

Jonathan Broxton, 2015, Brewers
Randal Grichuk, 2013, Angels
Jason Heyward, 2014, Braves
Matt Holliday, 2009, Athletics
John Lackey, 2014, Red Sox
Brandon Moss, 2015, Indians
Adam Wainwright, 2003, Braves

In trading for Heyward, Mozeliak knew the Cardinals were getting an elite defender in right field, as well as one who potentially could hit anywhere in the order while also offering considerable value on the basepaths. Perhaps more importantly, they knew they were getting a quality individual.

"When you're looking to bring someone to the club, you're absolutely hoping from a chemistry standpoint that it's going to work," said Mozeliak. "From early on in Spring Training we knew he was a good fit."

Grichuk's breakthrough rookie campaign was made possible by Holliday's injury, as Mozeliak noted that the 24-year-old "provided Matheny with some versatility and pop in the lineup when we needed some offense in the outfield."

Game Date Results
Gm 1 Oct. 9 STL 4, CHC 0
Gm 2 Oct. 10 CHC 6, STL 3
Gm 3 Oct. 12 CHC 8, STL 6
Gm 4 Oct. 13 CHC 6, STL 4

Acquiring Broxton and Cishek -- two moves which seemed relatively minor at the time -ultimately bolstered the Cardinals' bullpen for the stretch run and took some of the pressure off of Siegrist and Rosenthal.

"At the Trade Deadline, our strategy was that if there was a starting pitcher out there that made sense we were definitely going to consider it," recalled Mozeliak. "But if not, we felt that shortening the game could help. We knew at some point our rotation wouldn't be as dominant as it once was, so we knew that if we could go get some help from the right side we would benefit from it."

After struggling during the first half, Broxton and Cishek each rebounded to post a sub-3.00 ERA while appearing in 26 games for St. Louis.

FREE AGENTS
Player, year

Jhonny Peralta, 2013
Mark Reynolds, 2014
Carlos Villanueva, 2015

Thanks to a deep farm system and minimal turnover at the Major League level from the previous year, the Cardinals did not have to shell out big bucks toward free agents. The club's only notable offseason signing was Mark Reynolds, who inked a one-year, $2 million pact.

Reynolds, 32, opened the season as a reserve player, seeing time at both cornerinfield positions, but was thrust into an everyday role as the team's first baseman after Adams hit the disabled list.

"When you think about dealing with the ups and downs of a year, and specifically with a club that was struggling offensively, it was big that we had a veteran like Mark to fill in the gaps," Mozeliak said.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.