ST. LOUIS -- It has been four years since the Winter Meetings spotlight shone brightly on the Cardinals. That was back in Dallas, where the team was unsuccessful in its bid to woo Albert Pujols back to St. Louis.
Since then, the Cardinals' Winter Meetings stays have been dotted primarily with complementary transactions. That could change next week, as the Cards will head to Nashville with a deep agenda and the financial resources to make unprecedented splashes in the free-agent market.
The Cardinals' winter activity has been limited mostly to dialogue thus far. The club did some roster cleanup in November before capping the month with the acquisition of a new backup catcher, Brayan Pena. Signing Pena to a two-year deal represents the team's lone Major League free-agent signing this winter.
There's certain to be more, and likely before the end of the club's Winter Meetings stay in Nashville next week.
"Clearly this week and next are going to be pretty busy," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Our level of activity is going to be what is best for us."
Mozeliak has previously outlined three offseason priorities, all of which still remain. There is a need for an impact bat, a desire for a super-utility player and a search for another starting pitcher. The latter was not expected to register high on the Cardinals' winter to-do list, though circumstances changed recently with the news that Lance Lynn will miss the 2016 season after requiring Tommy John surgery.
The Cardinals' pursuit to retain Jason Heyward remains strong. Though he wouldn't go into detail regarding any recent negotiations, Mozeliak acknowledged the two sides are "certainly working" toward a mutually-beneficial conclusion. The Cardinals traded for Heyward in November 2014, hopeful that having him play one season in St. Louis before free agency would enhance the team's chances of resigning the outfielder.
At 26 years old, Heyward is the youngest free agent on the market, a distinction that will affect his value. So, too, will the way in which teams value his elite defense, above-average baserunning and a career .268/.353/.431 slash line.
If the Cardinals are not successful in luring Heyward back to town, look for the club to pursue other right-field and first-base options. Over the past two seasons, the Cardinals rank 24th in slugging percentage (.382) and 27th in home runs (242). They know that is not good enough. St. Louis has the flexibility to move Stephen Piscotty to first base or right field, therefore creating an opening for another impact hitter to fill the other vacancy.
The Cardinals' offensive search will continue with the pursuit of a versatile player who can spell starters at multiple positions. Mozeliak has suggested that this role could produce regular playing time -- just not at the same position. Of particular importance is finding someone who can offer a backup at both middle infield spots.
Free-agent Ben Zobrist might best fit this need, but the Cardinals would have to sell him on a job that remains somewhat undefined.
On the pitching side, the Cardinals will look for starters in every tier. With a new local television deal about to pour millions back into the organization each season, the Cards have the financial flexibility to go big. While this organization has never given a pitcher a contract worth more than $97.5 million -- and that was to the already in-house Adam Wainwright in 2013 -- the Cardinals haven't ruled out changing course this winter.
And having planned for a significant payroll boost for several years now, the Cardinals aren't necessarily restrained by an either/or decision. They are believed to have the financial resources to make hefty contract commitments to both a hitter and a starting pitcher.
Unlike the past two seasons, when the Cardinals acted swiftly and had most of their winter shopping wrapped up before Black Friday, this year's course has taken more time. But the Cards anticipate seeing movement in the free-agent and trade markets leading up to and through next week's Winter Meetings. And this year, they're ready to be in the middle of it.
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 7 p.m. CT. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 10 a.m. CT and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 9 a.m. CT.