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Cardinals GM Mozeliak predicts ‘an exciting brand of baseball’

St. Louis Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak, [right], with Manager Mike Matheny [left] and new center fielder Dexter Fowler. [Photo courtesy of Bill Greenblatt/UPI]

Before last season, you would have had to go back to 2008 to find a year when the Chicago Cubs finished ahead of St. Louis in the standings.

It doesn’t happen often, but last year was more painful for St. Louis fans. Not only did the Cardinals have to endure not making the playoffs, St. Louis watched the Cubs win the World Series.

The Cardinals have regrouped this season under General Manager John Mozeliak.

St. Louis spent 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 its rival.

But has Mozeliak done enough to build a team that can catch the Cubs?

“I always feel like it’s sort of dangerous to simply chase your neighbors,” Mozeliak said at the Winter Warm-Up. “That phrase – ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ – can be dangerous, right? I think the best strategy is to try to build a club 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 those in attendance 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. 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,” he said.

This season, Mozeliak knows what he wants to see from the club.

“We’ve stated, really from day one, [that] we tried to improve our athleticism, tried to improve our base running and defense. Be less of a station-to-station ball club,” Mozeliak said. “Lots is being written about what we think about offensively, in terms of power, relative to where we were. I would imagine you’re going to see a regression in home runs, but I hope you’ll see a step forward in overall offense in terms of more activity on the basepaths, being able to score from second. Hopefully, an exciting brand of baseball.”

Mozeliak is keen on seeing Wong become a more productive player for St. Louis.

Second baseman Kolten Wong [Lou Countryman photo]

“I would say yes in the sense that when you think about what we’re trying to accomplish on the defensive side of the game [and] what we’re trying to say we’re trying to do offensively,” Mozeliak said. “When you look at sort of how we’ve put this whole club together, I don’t want to say he’s the keystone, but clearly having him have success could make all of us stronger.”

The same goes for outfielder Randal Grichuk, Mozeliak said.

“I think he’s one of those classic, extremely gifted players. As he’s evolving in his own development, I think he has a better understanding of where he needs to be,” Mozeliak said. “And I think there is that mental maturity aspect where you’re starting to see him grow and understand what he needs to do. When you have that kind of talent, when you have that sort of mental maturity coming together, it’s a good place to be.

Outfielder Randal Grichuk [Lou Countryman photo]

“I think the one misconception is we’re promoting him never to strike out. That’s not really what we’re trying to do. It’s trying to get the ball in play, taking advantage of his athleticism. But ultimately, he is somebody I could envision being a 30 home-run hitter for many years to come.”

Catcher Yadier Molina is another year older, but don’t look for his workload to lessen. Molina played in a career-high 147 games last year.

Should he see less playing time to preserve him for the stretch run and possibly the postseason? That consideration is in the forefront more than ever for the 34-year-old winner of eight Gold Gloves.

“I think we have that conversation here every year,” Mozeliak said. “We’ve probably been doing it for at least four or five years, and I’ve probably been giving you the same wrong answer. I guess I could repeat that. I do feel like from a general manager seat that you would want to balance that and try to protect him better than we have, but the guy loves to play.

Catcher Yadier Molina [Lou Countryman photo]

“He trains extremely hard in the offseason to prepare himself for that 162. He’s not an easy guy to talk to get out of the lineup. I would say that I hope we can help manage that because I do feel like he’d only be better off for it. But I have said that year in, year out, so we’ll see.”

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