Cardinals want 'tremendous fit' Heyward back

Gold Glove-winning outfielder led NL Central champs in hits, steals

Cardinals want 'tremendous fit' Heyward back

ST. LOUIS -- After holding meetings with owner Bill DeWitt, manager Mike Matheny and the rest of the Cardinals' staff following an abrupt end to the season in Chicago, general manager John Mozeliak turned his attention toward the process of building a roster capable of taking the organization further in 2016.

Over the next few weeks, Mozeliak and his staff will study the potential trade market and prioritize players to target in free agency. And within that activity, they'll also seek to secure the long-term services of at least one of their own.

While the free-agent market won't open to the masses until five days after the World Series ends, the Cardinals have a window right now during which they can negotiate with their players poised to enter that market. Mozeliak, speaking at his annual season wrapup press conference on Thursday, said he will begin reaching out to representatives of those players next week to express the organization's level of interest.

Atop that call list will be Victor Menocal, agent to Jason Heyward.

Mozeliak confirmed the team's interest in signing Heyward to a multi-year deal, noting that the first-year Cardinal "was a tremendous fit on this club [and] did exactly what we wanted him to do."

Heyward's sliding catch

The Cardinals acquired the right fielder last November with the intention of using the final year before free agency to sell St. Louis to him. In the process, he sold himself to the organization, which sees the 26-year-old outfielder as an ideal fit to become part of the club's long-term core.

Heyward, a strong candidate for a third National League Gold Glove award, hit .293/.359/.439, while leading the team in hits (160) and stolen bases (23) in 154 games played. He proved valuable as a sub in center, too, when the Cardinals fell thin in options there.

"He was as advertised," Mozeliak said. "On a personal level, he's just a genuinely nice person. I think he's one of those guys who could really fit in anywhere. He's a great teammate and very likeable. When you think about bringing players into an organization, there is always that risk. He far exceeded that."

While the Cardinals may be the first to make their case for Heyward to stay, he won't make any decision about a 2016 (and beyond) landing spot until after he determines the level of interest other clubs have in him. Mozeliak said he doesn't expect the wait for Heyward's decision to handcuff them in their other pursuits.

"I think we have enough internal flexibility where we can still look to do other things and still accomplish what we need to do," Mozeliak said. "But I think we should let the process begin before I totally write something in ink."

Though he may be the most prominent, Heyward is not the only Cardinals player poised to enter the free-agent ring. Others include: John Lackey, Matt Belisle, Randy Choate, Mark Reynolds and Carlos Villanueva. The Cardinals also have a pair of club options to consider.

Lackey's 7 1/3 shutout innings

Reliever Jonathan Broxton, acquired from the Brewers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, came with a $9 million mutual option, which the Cardinals are not expected to exercise. In turn, the team will pay a $2 million buyout, money that Milwaukee included as part of the trade.

The decision with lefty Jaime Garcia isn't so black and white. The contract Garcia signed in July 2011 included a pair of option years, the first of which is valued at $11.5 million for 2016. Whether the Cardinals exercise it will be determined by a number of factors, including an assessment of their own pitching depth, the availability of pitching on the free-agent market, their level of confidence in Garcia's health and their view of his October performance.

Garcia goes eight in win

Mozeliak said the organization hasn't "made any decisions yet on strategy" when it comes to considering Garcia, or even free-agent Lackey, for a possible return to the rotation.

"You think back to Garcia, and the impact that he made on our roster was extremely positive," Mozeliak said. "If we were having this conversation in February, I don't think any of us would have thought he was going to contribute, especially the way he did."

Decisions on those buyouts will have to be made before the free-agency period opens. Before that date, the Cardinals will also have to decide to which players they will extend a qualifying offer. Heyward is a given. Lackey is a definite possibility. The value of that one-year deal will be approximately $15.8 million. If a player does not accept it, the extending club receives Draft pick compensation.

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