Cardinals focused on building division winner

Mozeliak optimistic about club's chances of dethroning Cubs

Cardinals focused on building division winner

ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps it's fitting that the Cardinals and Cubs have dueling winter conventions this weekend, as both teams find themselves still having to talk about the other.

This local obsession with catching the Cubs has been a talking point since the Cardinals finished the 2016 season 17 1/2 games behind their National League Central rivals. It marked the first time since 2008 that the Cubs finished ahead of St. Louis in the standings.

The Cardinals regrouped this season by spending big on free agents Brett Cecil and Dexter Fowler, the latter of whom just won a World Series championship ring with Chicago. They were moves made with an eye on improving an 86-win team, not solely a reaction to being passed by their rival.

But the question continues to come general manager John Mozeliak's way: Has he built a team that can catch the Cubs?

"I always feel like it's sort of dangerous to simply chase your neighbors," Mozeliak said from Winter Warm-Up. "That phrase -- 'Keeping up with the Joneses' -- can be dangerous, right? I think the best strategy is try to build a club that you think has a chance to win your division, get to the postseason. Obviously, a lot of things have to happen along the way, and part of that's good fortune. Part of that is playing well. You look back to last year, some of those things we just didn't do that well."

Mozeliak went on to describe himself as "optimistic" about 2017 and reminded that much would have to go right for the Cubs to repeat their 103-win championship season.

"I'll tell you this -- nobody in our clubhouse is conceding anything," he added. "No one is waving a white flag and saying we're just playing for second. I think that type of thought process would just be crazy, and, candidly, that's why I think all of us are excited to get this [season] started."

Here are a few other items of note from Mozeliak's 30-minute press briefing on Sunday:

• Though it's been five weeks since the Cardinals last made an addition to their 40-man roster, Mozeliak said he is still looking to add pieces ahead of Spring Training. Any additions, he noted, would likely be complementary ones given the players left on the free-agent market.

One area in which the Cardinals continue to look for help is in the outfield market. Specifically, the team is exploring left-handed-hitting players who could play multiple outfield positions.

• As recently as the Winter Meetings, Mozeliak projected that Jhonny Peralta would open camp atop the team's third-base depth chart. That characterization changed on Sunday, though, as Mozeliak asserted that Jedd Gyorko and Peralta will be fighting for the starting job this spring.

"That will be a competition," Mozeliak said. "You look at what [Gyorko] did last year, certainly he deserves that [chance]. That's where we're in a good spot because whoever wins that job, the other person can play all four infield positions."

• The Cardinals are sticking with their plan to stretch out former closer Trevor Rosenthal this spring, even though their vision doesn't necessarily include him as a member of the rotation. The organization's goal is to make Rosenthal a more versatile piece in the 'pen.

"I think all of us were intrigued by how the postseason went this past year and how pitchers were being used," Mozeliak said, referring to the unconventional use of relievers. "I'm not one who thinks that's really something you can replicate in a 162-game season, but clearly it could be a weapon down the road if you do get to the postseason. But how is [Rosenthal] going to be used this year? I think really that's what we'll spend the next six weeks trying to define."

• Major League Baseball's investigation into the Cardinals' unauthorized access of the Astros' database is still ongoing, and Mozeliak said the club has not gotten an indication from MLB about how much longer it will be before punishment is announced.

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.