ST. LOUIS -- With their offseason work completed, the Cardinals will begin their defense of three consecutive National League Central Division titles next week, as players and staff gather together again at the team's spring complex in Jupiter, Fla.
Pitchers and catchers must report by Feb. 17, and the club's first full-squad workout will take place the following week. In the days leading up to those early workouts, Cardinals.com will offer a series of stories to examine issues and questions that should gain clarity during the team's time in Florida.
Up first is a look at five bounce-back candidates who could greatly impact the Cardinals' upcoming season if they are able to rebound from an injury-plagued 2015:
LHP Marco Gonzales: After nearly winning a spot in the Major League rotation last spring, Gonzales was sent to Triple-A Memphis where he was expected to stay ready as rotation depth. Instead, his season was twice interrupted by a shoulder injury. Gonzales finished with 14 Triple-A appearances (1-5, 5.45 ERA) and one big league start (2 2/3 IP, 7 H, 4 R) before being shut down for the season without consideration for a postseason roster spot. Now, the Cardinals hope that Gonzales can find a fit in their bullpen or as a sixth starter.
RHP Adam Wainwright: Though Wainwright made a remarkable recovery to return to the mound on the final day of September and contributed in relief during the Cardinals' brief postseason stay, a ruptured Achilles limited the team's ace to 33 1/3 innings in '15. There are not expected to be any residual effects from the injury, and the fact that Wainwright's arm was able to rest for much of the year could be a plus. With John Lackey gone and Lance Lynn out, the Cardinals need their front-line starter back.
RHP Jordan Walden: Walden joined the Cardinals as part of the November '14 swap for Jason Heyward, but he hardly made the impact Heyward did in '15. Walden opened the season as the team's primary setup man, but he had to be shut down at the end of April due to right biceps tightness. He never returned, finishing with just 10 1/3 frames in 12 games. Walden opted for a rehab program over surgery, which means the Cardinals won't truly know how healthy he is until Walden goes through a Spring Training throwing program.
1B Matt Adams: With the Cardinals eager to see what Brandon Moss can offer as an everyday first baseman, Adams is going to have to produce to earn back playing time. He was limited to 60 games in '15 due to a left quad injury he sustained in late May. While he was on the field, Adams batted .240/.280/.377 with five homers and 24 RBIs. Whether he hits his way back into the lineup or becomes a threat off the bench, a healthy Adams could bring the Cardinals a much-needed power boost.
OF Matt Holliday: Instead of initiating an offensive overhaul this winter, the Cardinals will look for players like Holliday to return in a big way. A recurring quad injury limited Holliday, who still made the All-Star team, to 73 games and a .410 slugging percentage last season. The Cardinals believe the ceiling for a healthy Holliday is still much higher, and they'll need him to return to form in order to help anchor an offense that has been underwhelming each of the past two seasons.