Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak surveyed his bench and realized that what the club needed was something even the minor-league system he believed to be robust couldn’t provide.
That was this past winter.
The same could be said this winter.
Mozeliak has tinkered for two years with the makeup of the major-league bench — bending younger (and cheaper) for 2012 and then changing courses this year by signing Ty Wigginton to a two-year, $5 million deal. Wigginton was released midway through this season, but by the time October arrived, the bench had been depleted. Allen Craig’s injury meant Matt Adams had to start, and the postseason bench was devoid of thump.
“Clearly the way our bench sets up ... it has been more defensive protection than necessarily offensive,” Mozeliak said. “Part of it is just a lot of how we play our club — we sometimes value defensive flexibility over just the hitter. Maybe this offseason our strategy might be more pop. There’s a lot of things that go into that. There’s no black and white.”
Craig continues to rehab a ligament injury in his left foot that has kept him off the field for five weeks. The Cardinals do not have a timetable for his return and are less optimistic now than they were a month ago about him contributing in October.
Craig did not rule out being available for the NLCS.
“We’re going to find that out real soon,” he said. He expects to meet for that discussion today.
His presence off the bench would add a power element that isn’t there now. The Cardinals’ bench — led by Shane Robinson, Daniel Descalso, Adron Chambers and Kolten Wong — offers more speed and defense than pinch-hit options.
Manager Mike Matheny said his starting lineup is one that doesn’t beg for pinch-hitters.
“How that translates is we really don’t have a lot of offensive options,” he said. “When we have an Allen Craig we typically have a deeper bench and one of those big threats to come off the bench. That’s just not the team we have. ... We’re going to trust the guys we throw out there for the most part.”
KOZMA CLAIMS STARTS
In the National League division series, infielder Pete Kozma did something he only did once the entire month of September — start three consecutive games at shortstop. The Cardinals entered October with Daniel Descalso poised to be the everyday shortstop, given his run of starts at the position down the stretch and Matheny’s comments about what Descalso brought to the position as Kozma struggled.
Kozma got the start against lefty Francisco Liriano in Game 3 and hasn’t yielded. He had two hits in that game, one of the Cardinals’ three hits in Game 4, and he has brought his enhanced defense to short. In the fourth inning Wednesday night, Kozma dived to the second baseman’s side of the base to catch Neil Walker’s soft liner.
Kozma hit .133 (10 for 75) with 18 strikeouts in the final 50 games of the season to lose his starting job. But a division series surge is not unusual. Kozma had five RBIs in the NLDS last fall against Washington, including the game-winning hit in Game 5.
“The hot hand,” Matheny said. “(We’re) watching Pete walk into the batter’s box with a lot of confidence right now. Defensively, there’s never been a question what Pete can do and how well of a job he’s done at shortstop. We just continue to try to keep that positive momentum that he has offensively and put him in this lineup to make an impact somewhere.”
WHAT STROM LEAVES BEHIND
The departure of minor-league pitching coordinator Brent Strom to Houston does not mean the Cardinals will abandon the approaches he’s brought to player development. Strom was hired this week as the Astros’ new major-league pitching coach, ending a tenure with the Cardinals that began in late 2007. Strom, who specialized in mechanics, pushed the Cardinals to use more video at the minor-league level and also into some nontraditional discussions about pitching. His opinions irritated some of the established pitching coaches in the system, and officials described how both Strom and the organization evolved through his time.
Strom’s idea of “classic mechanics” — which meant more fluid, individualized deliveries — merged well the emphasis Mozeliak and the organization put on acquiring athleticism and making pitchers. Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez both played shortstop before the Cardinals drafted or signed them as pitchers with minimal experience on the mound.
Mozeliak called Strom “innovative and creative.”
“People like him don’t always fit with organized baseball, so I think he took advantage of this situation and the opportunity that presented itself,” Mozeliak said. “I think of the structure and what he implemented in our minor-league system is something that even though he’s gone, we intend to carry on.”
The Cardinals have not decided on a replacement.
CARDS FIXTURE BATES RETIRES
Longtime Cardinals equipment manager Otto “Buddy” Bates retired from the organization Wednesday, working his final day at the team’s spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla.
Bates spent 45 years with the organization and served in a variety of roles at the major-league level before moving to Jupiter for the last few years. Bates was the bridge from his mentor Butch Yatkeman, the clubhouse manager for Stan Musial’s clubs, to the modern club. It was Bates who handed Albert Pujols his No. 5 jersey when he made the major-league club in 2001.
“He deserves a quiet offseason, for once,” Mozeliak said. “Buddy is one of the all-timers as far as being respected and always one to represent the Cardinals with a first-class approach.”
Cardinals great and Hall of Famer Lou Brock threw out the ceremonial first pitch. … Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright tied a major-league record by going three consecutive postseason starts without a walk, according to Elias Sports Bureau. His streak ended in the first inning Wednesday when he walked the second batter. … Matheny said Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha were the only pitchers unavailable for Wednesday’s Game 5. Pirates’ righty Charlie Morton, the Game 4 starter, and A.J. Burnett were unavailable for them. Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said lefty Liriano would be used if needed.