Cardinals continue to canvas infield market
Club talks to free agents, yet makes it clear Wong will start at second base
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cardinals have made their pitch to several free-agent infielders and now will wait to see if any of them are willing to join an organization where regular playing time is not being promised.
While meeting with various agents this week at the Winter Meetings, general manager John Mozeliak has made it clear that the Cardinals intend to give Kolten Wong the first crack at the starting second base job. The organization would like to have a right-handed-hitting infielder to complement Wong, but this job will not come with guaranteed playing time.
As a result, the Cardinals are pushed into a position of patience, waiting for players to scout the market for potential playing time elsewhere before considering St. Louis' overtures.
"Honesty is a good approach in this," Mozeliak said. "I certainly don't want to sell somebody a bit of goods that is not going to come true. I would rather over-deliver than under-deliver. ... Our positioning right now is to basically sell what we have, explain it, and simply just sort of see where things unfold.
"I wouldn't say we're lying in the weeds. We're trying to keep the pulse of what's happening. If we can do something, we will. But it's not something that we feel has to happen before we leave [on Thursday]. When they're looking at true opportunity, they know Kolten Wong exists. And they know that our intentions are for him to play."
Mozeliak sees the ideal fit as being an infielder who can play multiple positions. That would give the Cardinals a right-handed-hitting utility infielder to complement the left-handed-hitting Daniel Descalso, who can also play several positions. Adding another right-handed bat could squeeze Pete Kozma out of a place on the Cardinals' roster.
As it stands now, the Cardinals plan to have Kozma work at multiple infield positions during Spring Training.
The Cards have explored the trade market as a way to fill this hole, but have thus far faced asking prices much greater than they are willing to pay for a projected backup player. In the meantime, Mozeliak remains confident that Wong is ready to be a productive Major League player if given the chance.
Wong, while impressive defensively, went just 9-for-59 with one extra-base hit and no RBIs during his Major League stint in 2013.
"Clearly, what he has shown is he can hit both a left-hand pitcher and a right-hand pitcher," Mozeliak said. "But if there was a way for us to give that line of protection, we need to think about it. And it's certainly something that between now and leading up to Opening Day, it is something we might explore."
Committee agrees with Matheny on plate collisions
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Shortly after Mike Matheny stood before members of the Playing Rules Committee and articulated the effect concussions have had on his life, the Cardinals manager watched as Major League Baseball took a step forward toward banning home-plate collisions.
On Wednesday, that committee voted overwhelmingly to eliminate such collisions. The Rules Committee will now go about drafting a proposal that would lay out how such rule changes would be enforced and what precisely will be prohibited. That draft would then have to be approved at the next Owners Meetings in January and by the MLB Players Association.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, who chairs the Rules Committee, said he was confident all the necessary approval can be achieved before the 2014 season.
"I think Major League Baseball, the GMs, the owners, I think everybody saw an opportunity here to be proactive and not reactive and to try and move the game of baseball forward with the information that we have now," Matheny said after Wednesday's vote. "I think that was something that was on its way before my involvement outside of what had happened to me and my career.
"I salute [Giants manager] Bruce Bochy, who was very proactive in trying to get this message out. He had a lot of opposition, as all of us did who took a stance on this. I think people just are realizing that the way sports in general are going, that this is something that is a risk to our players. And then, once again, how big of a role does it play as a positive for our game? And can we move forward with the knowledge that we have now [on concussions] in a positive way to help protect our guys?"
Eliminating home-plate collisions has been a personal crusade for Matheny, who has been especially public about the topic over the last year. Once an opponent to such an amendment, Matheny had a change of opinion after enduring life-altering effects from the more than two dozen collisions he estimates he had as a catcher.
Along with Bochy, Matheny has watched support for his position swell recently among baseball managers and executives. It was a topic of prominent discussion last month at the General Managers Meetings.
"It was pretty impressive sitting in a group [Wednesday] with a bunch of managers, as we had a big roundtable discussion with a whole group of former catchers and Major League Baseball personnel and how everybody was on the same page," Matheny said. "Then it was just a matter of trying to talk to the Rules Committee so that it can be implemented. There are still some challenges ahead. There are channels to run through that still need to be done, too. I think there are still some hurdles potentially there, but it seems like the group, collectively, began to realize that there is an opportunity to do something here for the good of the game."
Matheny has told the Rules Committee that he would be happy to discuss his suggestions for enforcement if they would like the feedback. For the Cardinals, this movement is certainly welcome news given the value of their current catcher, Yadier Molina.
Cards increasing efforts in international market
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though the Cardinals continue the process of increasing their presence and operations internationally, general manager John Mozeliak suggested that the club still remains about a year away from potentially becoming serious players in those markets.
That statement came in response to a question asked about the new posting system that has been agreed to between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball. As this new proposal reads, teams can bid up to $20 million to secure negotiating rights with a Japanese player that has been posted by its club. If multiple teams make that maximum bid, they are all then free to negotiate with the player.
In the past, the Cards were wary of entering a bidding war that had no such limit.
Over the past few years, the Cardinals, led by director of player personnel Matt Slater, have begun to focus on becoming more engaged in both the Asian and Cuban markets. Unlike Latin America, neither of these markets features a spending cap. The Cardinals intend to increase the number of international scouts in their department within the next few months.
"Those are certainly things we can explore," Mozeliak said. "I still think, though, from a pure business standpoint, we're not at the point where we can be overly aggressive now. We're still gathering information or data to formulate a strategy. We're gaining confidence, but we're not full stride."
The Cardinals have been methodical in their work within the areas of player procurement. When the organization began to change its operational initiative about a decade ago, the first focus was the First-Year Player Draft. Then attention turned to Latin America. Now, the view is more worldwide.
"We certainly could have been touchy-feely in those, but I don't think we would have been doing them right," Mozeliak said. "These other areas we've become very accomplished in, and now we can start moving on."
The Cardinals have been among the teams recently scouting Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz, but based on Mozeliak's comments about the organization's current international position, it would seem unlikely they'd make a serious push at signing him. Diaz, 23, will be eligible to sign with a Major League team on Feb. 19.
• The Cardinals announced on Wednesday that Wong and right-hander Zach Petrick were selected as the organization's Minor League player and pitcher, respectively, for 2013. Both will be presented with their awards at the annual St. Louis Baseball Writers' Dinner on January 19.
Wong, who finished the season on the Cardinals' playoff roster, hit .303 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs in 107 Triple-A games before his promotion. He ranked third among all players in the Cards' system with 20 stolen bases.
Petrick, a non-drafted free agent signed out of the University of Northwestern Ohio in 2012, climbed from low Class A to Double-A during his breakout year. Petrick posted a 0.83 ERA in low Class A, a 0.27 ERA in high Class A, and finished 7-3 with an overall 1.99 ERA in 34 appearances (13 starts) among all three levels. He also saved eight games.
• Major League Baseball will hold its Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning in what is considered the final official event of the Winter Meetings. The Cardinals have open spots on the 40-man roster should they wish to make a selection, but that's unlikely given their position as the last team in the Draft order.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.