By Rob Rains
The Cardinals’ two primary off-season acquisitions, Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller, were introduced to the team’s fan base on Saturday on the opening day of the annual Winter Warmup.
“All I did was pray hard that we would not get a lot of snow today,” John Mozeliak said. “First impressions could be meaningful.”
The predicted 2 to 4 inches of snow followed a different track to the south making Mozeliak able to enjoy the day and watch the fans react to the Cardinals’ two new stars taking the stage for the first time.
The addition of Goldschimdt to play first base and Miller to be the dominating left-hander the team has lacked in the bullpen, one via trade and one signed as a free agent, are the biggest reasons Mozeliak, the president of baseball operations, is excited about the upcoming season and why he believes the fans should be excited as well.
As much as fans would like for the team to drop hundreds of millions of dollars to sign either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, Mozeliak is confident the moves the team has made this winter have made an 88-win team better.
“We feel like we did the things we needed to do to put a successful club out on the field,” Mozeliak said. “We knew we couldn’t have a stagnant off-season. We knew we had to make some changes to our club because we felt even though we had a good team last year we still weren’t good enough.
“We’re very excited about where we are. It’s about the time where you stop talking about what you’ve done and start looking forward to seeing it happen on the field.”
Trading for Goldschmidt, who is eligible to become a free agent at the of the season, was an example of how important winning is for the Cardinals in 2019 after three consecutive years of sitting at home in October.
One of Goldschmidt’s first impressions of the Cardinals’ fan base was the excitement level he saw about the team.
“Everyone was like, ‘Welcome to St. Louis, we’re excited to have you,’” Goldschmidt said about his two hours signing autographs. “I just said ‘I’m excited to be here’ and I really am. It’s a great city and a great organization and I’m excited to get out there and see what we can do.”
Many of the people in his line, including young children, were dressed in Goldschmidt 46 jerseys.
“It’s really, really cool and is a responsibility I don’t take lightly,” he said. “I kind of picture myself as that little kid. I grew up and I watched baseball every night on TV and that’s all I ever wanted to do. We’re role models to kids, there’s high expectations out there and I try to live up to them.
“To get to see it first hand (the excitement of the fans) is awesome and definitely gets me looking forward even more to spring training and the regular season. This organization has had success for a really long time and has sustained it and that’s really tough to do. All 30 teams are trying to find out the secret to winning. This organization has done as good a job as any.”
Miller, signed to a two-year deal as a free agent, admitted he is going into this season with a chip on his shoulder after injuries limited him to just 34 innings last season.
“Last year I didn’t pitch well,” Miller said. “I didn’t pitch frequently and I didn’t pitch to my standards. Certainly I’ve heard plenty of times this off-season that I’m old. I don’t think I’m that old (he is 33). I want to go out and prove I’m still the guy I was the last five or six years. … I have a lot of confidence that I can be the guy that my expectations are, and they are pretty high.”
Their new teammates are as excited about the additions of Goldschmidt and Miller as Mozeliak.
“I want to be in his ear,” Wong said of Goldschmidt. “I want to be sitting next to him and pick his brain and learn something that is going to make me better.
“We were missing pieces (last year). Not we’re not missing anything, Mo went out and got us everything we needed.”
Mozeliak hopes that proves to be the case and is more accurate than Saturday’s weather prediction.
“I’ve always been someone who wants to speak positively about our team … and we are excited about our team,” he said. “Do we want our fan base energized and believe we are an improved team? I believe most people would argue that we are.
“Adding those guys (Goldschimdt and Miller) also is about their own presence. These are sophisticated thinkers. They are smart and I think they are going to help the rest of our roster in a very positive way.”
Mozeliak expressed confidence in the Cardinals’ current roster and downplayed any suggestions of additional moves coming before spring training, knowing it would force them to take one of their young players off the 40-man roster.
“We like our everyday club and the potential of our rotation,” Mozeliak said. “How that rotation shakes out is going to determine what the bullpen looks like. We’re not eagerly looking to say is there someone A who is better than B? We just don’t really see that. I don’t see anything that warrants us to change direction at this point.”
Another player who in essence could be viewed as new as well in 2019 is Alex Reyes, who has pitched a combined four innings the last two seasons because of injuries.
“This is a huge year for him,” Mozeliak said. “When you’ve had two lost years the clock is ticking. It’s very difficult to hit the reset button and make that just go away. For him to be healthy this year is paramount.”
How to keep Reyes healthy is part of the debate about how he will be used this season. Mozeliak also wants him to log more innings than he would get as just a short-inning reliever.
“The organization needs to be prudent in how we use him but we also don’t want to wake up at the end of the year and find out he pitched 50 innings,” Mozeliak said. “It would have to be a unique bullpen role where he could pile up some workload. That’s something we just have to work through.
“He’s in a good spot. It just comes down to the arm has to work and he has to stay healthy.”
Among other topics Mozeliak addressed with the media on Saturday:
As part of a scheduled trip to the Dominican Republic next week, he intends to meet with Marcell Ozuna to get an update on how his recovery is coming from off-season shoulder surgery. He expects Ozuna to be ready for full baseball activities at the start of spring training.
He is less optimistic about the health of reliever Luke Gregerson, who has continued to battle arm issues this winter that could leave his availability for spring training in question.
Brett Cecil has lost weight and Mozeliak said he has had a “very active” offseason. “He has been someone who has been very aggressive in getting in better shape,” Mozeliak said. “We’re feeling pretty good about where he is.”
The Winter Warmup continues on Saturday. Among the players scheduled to appear are Miles Mikolas, Jose Martinez, Austin Gomber, Dakota Hudson, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, along with manager Mike Shildt.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains