ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals say their rivalry with the Chicago Cubs already had more than enough spice before their NL Central rivals signed Jason Heyward and John Lackey.
“Would it have been nicer to see Lackey end up in Australia? Sure,” general manager John Mozeliak said Saturday at the team’s annual Winter Warmup. “But it didn’t happen. I certainly look at what we have and we’ll adjust accordingly.”
The division champions, coming off a major league-leading 100-win, haven’t quite made the same offseason splash as the 97-win team that eliminated them in the NL Division Series last fall. St. Louis has added Mike Leake, Jedd Gyorko and Japanese League standout reliever Seung Hwan Oh.
The Cubs also added infielder Ben Zobrist.
“They took some guys from our team that were big parts of it that we’re going to have to replace,” St. Louis leadoff man Matt Carpenter said. “I think we’ve got the pieces to replace them. It’s going to come down to the end, not to mention that the Pirates are going to be right in the thick of it as well.”
The Cardinals and wild-card Cubs and Pirates gave the NL Central the three best records in the league last season.
Signing Leake compensated for losing workhorse Lance Lynn for the season while rehabbing from reconstructive elbow surgery. Adding Oh spoke to doubts about Jordan Walden, who missed much of last season with a shoulder injury and is not being counted upon heading into spring training next month. Gyorko is expected to ease the playing burden on shortstop Jhonny Peralta and second baseman Kolten Wong — both of whom wore down the second half.
“You definitely saw a decline in performance and I think part of that was because of just usage,” Mozeliak said. “We had a lot of one-run games, the offense was struggling at times and we were forced to keep our foot on the pedal and keep throwing them out there.”
Ace Adam Wainwright figures to be back at full strength from a torn left Achilles and lefty Jaime Garcia is enjoying a rare healthy offseason. Carlos Martinez is spending the winter working out at the Cardinals’ training site in Jupiter, Florida, to avoid a repeat of last season when he was sidelined by shoulder fatigue late.
The outfield is crowded even without Heyward and Jon Jay. Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk are both coming off breakout rookie seasons, Matt Holliday has motivation coming off an injury-dominated year and entering the final year of his contract.
After Heyward took a free agent deal with Chicago, he cited being part of a younger core.
“You can’t get mad at a guy for doing what’s he thinks best for himself,” Carpenter said. “Certainly, we loved having him here and I told him we’re going to be friends, but when the game comes on we’re going to come at you.”
Tommy Pham flashed potential despite playing with less than perfect eyesight that’s being corrected with new contact lenses, and Brandon Moss is available for occasional outfield duty given first baseman Matt Adams also is healthy coming off a quadriceps injury.
“I’ve just got to go in this spring and play, produce,” Adams said. “If you’re not putting up the numbers, you’re not going to play.”
Moss also had health issues last year, recovering from a hip injury when he joined the Cardinals at the trade deadline. The 32-year-old Moss avoided arbitration Friday and agreed to a $8.25 million contract after combining for 19 homers and 58 RBIs last season.
“I’m just thrilled to be back,” Moss said. “After the way last year went, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be tendered.”
The last thing Mozeliak is worried about is getting enough playing time for everybody. That’ll take care of itself during the season.
“I’m worried about making sure we have guys that are competing for those at-bats,” Mozeliak said. “These are all big boys now.”
The Cardinals settled all four arbitration cases with one-year deals for Moss, closer Trevor Rosenthal, reliever Seth Maness and Adams. Mozeliak said Rosenthal’s $5.6-million deal was the toughest to pin down because though he’s had two huge years the track record isn’t long.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.