ST. LOUIS -- So conditioned to playing through October, the Cardinals instead find themselves in the unfamiliar position of already looking ahead to 2017 early in the month.
After finishing 17 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the National League Central and one game out of an NL Wild Card spot, the Cardinals now turn their attention toward closing those gaps. General manager John Mozeliak began meeting with manager Mike Matheny and baseball operations staff earlier this week to start formulating the team's offseason strategy.
"Overall, I'm very excited about where we are," Mozeliak said. "You look at all the clubs in our division, it doesn't really look like anybody is going to take a step backwards moving forward. It really will put a lot of pressure on us to continue to find ways to be successful. But we look forward to that."
Mozeliak has already hinted at what his priorities will be. Improving the club's defense and injecting athleticism into the lineup rank atop Mozeliak's to-do list. He noted his expectation for a "healthy turnover," and acknowledged that the club may have to deal away Major League talent in order to address its identified deficiencies.So with the Cardinals already preparing for the upcoming Hot Stove season, here is a position-by-position look at what the Cardinals already have -- and where they might add -- as they work to build a team capable of reaching the postseason in 2017.
Rotation: Though the Cardinals ranked seventh in the NL with a 4.33 rotation ERA, there does not seem to be an urgency to add another starter this winter. One reason for that is the impending return of Lance Lynn, who missed last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He'll join Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake, Martinez, Wacha, Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver as rotation options. Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons -- all of whom missed substantial time this year due to injury --- will reinforce the rotation depth. The Cardinals have a club option on Garcia they could exercise if they want to retain him for another season.
Bullpen: A midseason closer swap moved Seung Hwan Oh into that role, one that'll be his again to open 2017. Siegrist and Zach Duke will return as a pair of late-inning lefty options for the Cardinals. Rosenthal will be back, too, though for the first time in years, he'll enter a season with an undefined role. Jonathan Broxton has one year left on his deal, and Matt Bowman emerged as a key piece in the organization's 'pen as a Rule 5 pick this season. Getting Maness back from elbow surgery will add to the depth, and Lyons will again be a candidate to fill a long-relief role.
Catcher: Though he'll turn 35 next season, Yadier Molina shows no signs of slowing down. He caught a career-high 146 games in 2016 and will be opening his season as the Cardinals' starting backstop for a 13th consecutive season. Brayan Pena is signed to serve as Molina's backup next year, though Pena's role will be dependent upon his health and physical condition. This season, Pena's contributions were negligible. Carson Kelly spent September on the big league roster and took enough steps forward in his development to be considered a backup option if Pena falters. Alberto Rosario and Mike Ohlman provide sufficient depth behind the other three.
First base: Who ends up at first base for the Cardinals in 2017 will be determined by what the team does this winter. The Cards have options in Matt Carpenter and Adams. If Moss were to re-sign with the Cardinals, he could be a fit, too. It's hard to see the Cardinals entering next season with Adams projected for everyday at-bats given his inconsistent production there the past two seasons. Carpenter, who started 35 games at first base this season, may be the best option, particularly if the Cardinals are intent on improving their infield defense. Carpenter ranks as a below-average defender at second and third base.
Second base: For now, it looks like this position will be filled by Kolten Wong or Jedd Gyorko -- or perhaps some combination of the two. Wong is coming off another uneven year, though he'd seem to fit as a second-base solution for a team seeking improved defense and increased athleticism. The question, of course, is whether the offensive production from Wong can complement those other areas. Even though Gyorko led the team with 30 homers in 438 plate appearances, he may again report to Spring Training without a starting job.
Shortstop: The Cardinals need improved defensive stability at short, though they seem willing to entrust Aledmys Diaz with that position for the long term. Diaz had a terrific offensive year as a rookie, but had his issues in the field. Of the 12 NL shortstops with at least 900 innings logged, Diaz ranked ninth with -3 defensive runs saved. Mozeliak did not rule out the possibility of adding a slick-fielding middle infielder this winter (doing so would allow Diaz to shift to second or third), but the organization's priorities seem to be elsewhere for the time being. Behind Diaz, Gyorko, Jhonny Peralta and Greg Garcia will offer depth.
Third base: Much like the other spots across the infield, the Cardinals have options, but little certainty. Peralta ended the 2016 season as the team's primary third baseman and could be back there in his final year under contract. Gyorko and/or Carpenter could slot in, as well. With other needs seemingly more prominent, the Cardinals are likely to hold onto what they have and then fit the puzzle pieces based on who else comes and goes this winter.
Outfield: This projects to be the area of biggest change over the next few months. The Cardinals do not intend to exercise Holliday's option, which will open a hole in left field. If all goes as planned, the Cardinals will shift Randal Grichuk to fill that void and add an above-average defensive center fielder to fortify the outfield defense. The free-agent class isn't ripe with elite defensive center fielders, so this may be an area best addressed via trade. Players like Kevin Kiermaier, A.J. Pollock and Charlie Blackmon would fill the team's need well, though it's unknown if any would be available in a trade. Dexter Fowler projects to be the most coveted free-agent center fielder. Stephen Piscotty will remain the team's everyday right fielder, while Tommy Pham, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Jose Martinez and rising prospect Harrison Bader will supply the team with outfield depth.
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.