Mozeliak puts offseason emphasis on defense

Cardinals will look for steady positions, target speed and athleticism

Mozeliak puts offseason emphasis on defense

ST. LOUIS -- As laid out by general manager John Mozeliak in an end-of-season news conference on Wednesday, the Cardinals will seek to improve defensively and to inject added athleticism on the position-player side as the club retools for 2017.

Mozeliak acknowledged that in building a more prolific offensive club this past year, the Cardinals sacrificed too much on the run-prevention side. The defense became a liability at times, and it added stress to a pitching staff that, consequently, had underwhelming collective results.

Priorities have changed now, and after falling one win short of a National League Wild Card spot, the Cardinals have turned their attention to stabilizing things in the field. Their search will start among center fielders, as adding an above-average defender in center could upgrade the outfield defense in two spots. That's because it would allow Randal Grichuk to shift to left field, where he projects to be an above-average defensive fit.

This year, the Cardinals ranked 14th among National League teams with -10 Defensive Runs Saved and a -13.4 Defensive Runs Above Average value by their left fielders. Grichuk, as a center fielder, recorded seven Defensive Runs Saved and posted a Defensive Runs Above Average value of -0.3.

The Cardinals, after watching Grichuk hit .275/.303/.579 with an .881 OPS after returning to the Majors in mid-August, are also confident that he can offer the offensive production desired from a corner outfielder.

Grichuk's two-run homer

"I think all of us, from an offensive standpoint, think he could be an All-Star," Mozeliak said of Grichuk. "I still think he's an elite-type talent. And [I] certainly don't want to give up on [him]."

The free-agent market isn't ripe with elite defensive center fielders. Dexter Fowler will likely emerge as the most coveted center fielder available, though his defensive numbers aren't all that different than Grichuk's. It could be, then, that the Cardinals find their best fit within the trade market.

Matheny on young players

As far as improving defensively at other positions, St. Louis expects that to happen more organically. Finding a stable position for Matt Carpenter will be a priority, and the organization believes Aledmys Diaz will be steadier at short in his second full season. Mozeliak also indicated that there will be an effort to prioritize playing time for Kolten Wong, who profiles as an above-average defender at second base.

Diaz's sliding catch

"I think what ends up happening is a lot of our decisions tend to lean toward making sure we get the offense right, and sometimes maybe the defensive component takes a back seat," Mozeliak said. "As we look to 2017, it's going to have to be, 'How do we minimize giving up those runs and, in doing so, having an offense that's relatively status quo be acceptable or, maybe in the wins and loss column, more successful.'"

In conjunction with improving the team's defense, Mozeliak will attempt to build a more athletic roster. The Cardinals' offense was largely a station-to-station one that offered a minimal threat to steal and limited ability to take extra bases. This season, attempts to force aggressiveness on the bases often resulted in recklessness, since the personnel was incapable of such a push.

While the Cardinals have sought to infuse their system with more athletic prospects via the MLB Draft, they likely aren't going to see that impact the big league club next season. Thus, they'll look outside for help.

"We've looked at addressing speed and athleticism for many years, and we just haven't been able to come up with that right combination," Mozeliak said. "When you see what's out there and look at how to inject that type of talent onto this club, it would be something welcoming."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.