This is the second of a six-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Cardinals' projected starters and backup options heading into next season. After looking at the club's catching depth last week, we'll examine the corner infield options now.
ST. LOUIS -- As the Cardinals explored the trade market last July and zeroed in on players who could fill a void at first base, general manager John Mozeliak also had his eyes on 2016.
He was cognizant of what was on the horizon, in particular a pending negotiation with Jason Heyward that the organization knew could be precarious. And so Mozeliak began to shuffle the pieces, projecting how the Cardinals' offense would profile if Heyward were to leave. He guessed at who might fit where.
This exercise narrowed his July pursuit, as Mozeliak believed that he wasn't just seeking a first baseman for the rest of the 2015 season, but also one for '16. The Cardinals found what they believed to be that fit in Brandon Moss, who was subsequently swapped for prospect Rob Kaminsky just ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Moss' initial impression was underwhelming, so much so that he became a part-time player just weeks into his arrival. Early on, he showcased that he could drive balls to the warning track -- but no further. His slash line of .250/.344/.409 was not exactly the boost of production the Cards were seeking.
Nevertheless, Mozeliak has, this offseason, repeatedly described himself as "bullish" on Moss' potential for 2016. A full year removed from hip surgery, Moss is similarly optimistic. He has a better second impression in mind.
"I know that coming off of last year, I have a lot to prove," Moss told MLB.com last month. "I have to show that I can be the player that I was before the [October 2014] hip surgery. I feel I have to earn the job. I want to earn the job. And I want to prove that I am still an everyday player."
The Cardinals, who did little to retool an offense that ranked 11th in the National League with 647 runs scored last year, need to see improvement. At a position where offensive output is expected, the Cards ranked last in the league with a .392 slugging percentage among their first basemen. They didn't much make up for it in on-base percentage, either, as the Cards ranked 11th in the NL there.
Moss has hit at least 23 home runs each of the past three seasons. Reaching that number again would be a boon to the Cardinals, who had just one player (Matt Carpenter) hit more than 17 in 2015.
The Cardinals have additional first-base options should Moss fall short of the team's bold expectations. Matt Adams is back after missing more than half the 2015 season with a quad injury. But he has had little proven success against lefties -- posting a .197/.230/.317 slash line over 230 plate appearances -- and he didn't previously cement himself as an everyday first baseman when given the chance.
Yet he, like Moss, could bring an element of power to a position that hasn't featured a 20-homer St. Louis player since Albert Pujols departed.
And if the Cardinals need to tap into depth beyond that, Stephen Piscotty and Jedd Gyorko could be options. Even Matt Holliday, who has been taking grounders at first base this winter, could emerge a possibility down the road, though the Cards don't seem eager to push this experiment right now.
Across the diamond, things are much more settled. Carpenter returns as the club's starting third baseman after proving that he could successfully change his offensive profile in 2015. Previously known for his knack of getting on base, Carpenter became more intentional in trying to drive pitches after seeing the success he had doing so in the 2014 postseason.
His OBP suffered slightly -- dropping from .375 in 2014 to .365 in '15 -- but Carpenter raised his slugging percentage 130 points to .505 while leading the team in home runs (28), doubles (44) and RBIs (84).
The Cardinals, after watching Carpenter suffer from extreme fatigue in 2015, will be cognizant of his workload. That's one of the reasons the club prioritized adding a utility infielder, a role that Gyorko will fill.