MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Tejada signing gives Cardinals needed flexibility

St. Louis GM Mozeliak sees roster building as '12-months-a-year project'

Tejada signing gives Cardinals needed flexibility

JUPITER, Fla. -- When the Cards, at large, get back from Fort Myers, Fla., they'll find him over there by the far wall, in-between the locker of the guy who wears No. 94 and the entrance to the bathroom.

Their new shortstop option, Ruben Tejada, showed up Saturday to a mostly empty clubhouse, but one that will benefit from his arrival. And though Tejada arrived too late to get a primo locker spot, he's not too late to impact the defending National League Central champs as much as he helped last year's National League East champs.

How much, exactly, will he play in Jhonny Peralta's stead? Uh, we'll get back to you on that one.

"I just came here to play, to do my best," Tejada said through an interpreter. "Whatever my performance is on the field, there's going to be a decision made [off of that]."

Tejada represents flexibility on a team that valued that concept probably more than ever in the wake of a 100-win season.

Tejada on signing with Cardinals

While it was understandably easy to harp on and admire the health woes the Cards overcame to get to that total in 2015, they were lucky in one respect: They had four players (Peralta, Jason Heyward, Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong) log at least 150 games played. The Pirates were the only team in baseball with more (five), and the Cubs, White Sox and Rockies were the only other clubs with four.

So at a certain point, you've got to be looking around the league and wondering when the law of averages will catch up to you. Peralta's torn thumb ligament, which will keep him out until at least June, was something of a regression to the mean.

"There is a level of fatigue in this game that was not discussed 10, 15, 20 years ago," general manager John Mozeliak said. "One of the things we wanted to do was just make sure, as the season turns to July, August and September, is just make sure our guys are fresh."

Fresh legs on a young Cubs team masterfully managed by Joe Maddon, who backed off BP and rotated rookies in and out of the lineup, were arguably a big difference in the NL Division Series between the two NL Central rivals.

In the aftermath, the Cards were interested in obtaining David Price and retaining Heyward. Those were the two players who wound up commanding the largest total financial packages of the offseason, and the Cards wanted them both. Everybody knows that.

But the restraint Mozeliak showed when both of those players went elsewhere will either go down as remarkably astute or remarkably askew when the dust settles on 2016.

What is indisputable, in the immediate term, is that a measured approach to roster construction gave -- and continues to give -- Mozeliak the flexibility to operate on the fly when a minor disaster like Peralta's injury arises. The Cardinals have financial wiggle room (and their $1.5 million commitment to Tejada obviously doesn't eat into that much), and despite graduating multiple prominent players to the big leagues in recent years, they've still got the farm system support to survive the grind of 162. And the projected roster itself has the flexibility that comes with young bodies in the outfield (Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham) and Matt Holliday proving himself a viable candidate at first base.

Now, Tejada arrives, and he likely puts Jedd Gyorko back in the utility role for which he was intended, and neither prospect Aledmys Diaz nor Peralta himself necessarily need to be rushed.

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Not a bad move for March 19, eh?

The Cards checked in on Tejeda right when Peralta went down, but they had ample media reports to suggest the Mets would be waiving him in order to save a significant portion of his $3 million salary. So the patience Mozeliak applied to the offseason extended to the spring, and this is nothing new for the club that signed Kyle Lohse to a one-year deal on March 13, 2008, and got 200 innings and 15 wins out of him.

"I think one of the things you realize when you do this job is there are always opportunities," Mozeliak said. "We all get fixated from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, where everything has to be tied up with a bow on it and that's it. That's not reality. ... I look at roster building as being opportunistic and as a 12-months-a-year project."

Again, the Cards' patience can only be fully judged -- and perhaps fully appreciated -- when we see how this 2016 season shakes out. But Tejada -- defensively, at the very least -- was a pretty good get just two weeks from Opening Day. He's a cheap insurance policy on a roster with a lot of moving parts, Tejada potentially included.

"As long as I'm in the lineup, I don't care what position I play," he told reporters. "I just want to be on the field and help the team win."

In other words, he's flexible.

In this game, you've got to be.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.