Cardinals confident in progress with Heyward

Cardinals confident in progress with Heyward

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- On the eve of his departure from the Winter Meetings, general manager John Mozeliak acknowledged that he'll likely return to St. Louis on Thursday without resolution as it concerns the team's continued courting of free-agent outfielder Jason Heyward.

But he doesn't believe that's an indication of no progress made.

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"I feel like, from a confidence standpoint, I feel like I know where this may be heading," Mozeliak said of the Heyward negotiations. "But I don't feel like I have direct feedback yet to tell you X or Y. So we'll just keep grinding away."

As has been the case since the start of the offseason, the Cardinals remain zeroed in on luring the 26-year-old Gold Glove outfielder back to St. Louis. They're not spending their time making a sales pitch these days -- the organization believes its best pitch came by having Heyward in uniform last season -- but are rather waiting for Heyward's market to settle.

In their back-and-forth with Heyward's representation, the Cardinals have yet to be told what, in terms of years and dollars, it would take for Heyward to sign. Perhaps that's an indication of a still-evolving market for Heyward, who is reportedly drawing interest from the Cubs, Giants and Angels, among others.

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The Cardinals are still trying to determine where they fit in that puzzle and "gauge where some of those dollars might be" in an outfield market that also features Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon as attractive free-agent options.

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Mozeliak understands that the financial commitment required will likely be higher than where the club typically operates. While they have been bold with free-agent offers before -- consider Albert Pujols in 2011, David Price last month -- the Cardinals have not signed a free agent to a contract worth more than the $120 million deal given to Matt Holliday after the 2009 season.

Heyward is certain to command more. And as comfortable as he may have been playing in St. Louis after five seasons in Atlanta, Heyward will nevertheless be drawn to dollar signs.

"We're not naïve," said manager Mike Matheny, who has remained in touch, via text messages, with Heyward throughout the offseason. "It comes down to a business decision. But hopefully -- and I do believe just from conversations with Jason -- it was a great experience for him, because it certainly was a great experience for us. And we hope that it's something we can continue with."

Landing the player who Matheny said was at the "top of the priority list right now" will likely take an uncomfortable offer from a club that has long shown fiscal restraint in the open market.

"Historically, we haven't [been the highest bidder]," Mozeliak said. "That's something that we may have to recalibrate ourselves and rethink it. But we've had a very disciplined process to date, and it has worked. I think we all recognize that sometimes you have to change. Sometimes you have to do things that maybe get you out of your comfort zone."

While they await Heyward's decision, the Cardinals continue to lay the groundwork for contingency plans. Mozeliak explored various trade opportunities with his front-office staff on Wednesday and remains in dialogue with free-agent position players who could offer the impact bat the Cardinals desire.

Mozeliak suggested that the Cardinals will continue to be patient with Heyward, preferring to see resolution on his status before acting on another outfield option.

"I don't see things rolling into January at this point," Mozeliak said. "But that could change. We could [give an ultimatum], but I'm not exactly sure what that gets us. I still feel right now we're not at that point where we have to draw a line in the sand.

"I think we've moved forward."

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.