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Cardinals spring training

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak (left) talks with manager Mike Matheny during spring training last February. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

The Cardinal weight.

You feel it, the team feels it, the city feels it.

“It is a unique spot for us in the sense of — we’re looking up, now we’re chasing,” Cards general manager John Mozeliak said from his office Thursday, about 16 hours after the Cubs had won the World Series. “You could argue that for many, many years they were chasing us. But they passed.”

In a weird way, though, this is sort of a fun time for the Cardinals and Cardinals Nation, for some talented guy out there will be a new Cardinal by spring.

“I expect that to happen, yeah,” Mozeliak said.

Now, at first glance, I thought the timing of Thursday’s Mike Matheny announcement was bad. Your rival Cubs win the danged World Series and you counter with bringing back a manager who missed the playoffs? But I now like the symbol of the whole thing: 2016 is over; 2017 starts now.

See Matheny through.

And build him a better team today.

Baseball’s annual meeting of general managers is this week. “Mo” and two lieutenants — assistant general manager Michael Girsch and scouting director Randy Flores — will ascend on Scottsdale, Ariz., a city known for flirty 50-somethings, sequined tight shirts on both genders and, now, the nascence of the Cards’ Great Chase. (Wait, are the Cardinals now baseball’s lovable losers? I mean, they missed the playoffs last year and it’ll be six long years since they won a World Series. What was the price of gas back in 2011? How much was a gallon of milk?)

As for this new Cardinals player the team will acquire, he likely will be the epitome of what the execs want their team to be: exceedingly athletic and excellent at defense.

“And people can draw their own conclusions on what that looks like, and that’s how we’ll try to spend our energy (in the trade and free-agent markets),” Mo said. “The good news for us is we do have resources, whether it’s a stronger minor-league system than we were a year ago or (with) money. …

“We’ve been very clear — if we can find a center fielder, we want to do that. If we can’t, what’s our next-best alternative in left?”

How important is defense to winning? Use UZR. Ultimate Zone Rating is the jambalaya of defensive stats, including all the statistical aspects of what makes a fielder good.

As a team, the Cubs had the highest UZR in baseball (73.0). Moreover, consider that seven of the 10 playoff teams ranked in the top 12 of UZR. And the lowest of the playoff teams, Baltimore, ranked at 19th, was the lone playoff team with a negative UZR.

Your St. Louis Cardinals finished at 24th. That is not good.

Will the Cards nab a player from free agency? Doubt it. Dexter Fowler is out there, and he’s enticing because of his on-base percentage (.393), but his UZR was 1.0 — and it was the first time he had a positive UZR in eight full seasons. And don’t forget, Busch’s center field is bigger than Wrigley’s.

So the Cards likely will trade for an upgrade.

And this is why I was fine with the Cards declining to extend a hefty offer to Brandon Moss, and with the Cards picking up Jaime Garcia’s one-year, $12 million option — because on the trade market it gives them more options.

“A lot of people are asking, ‘Does this make sense?’” Mo said, “and I think the key for us as we pick up this option is, we feel comfortable having seven starters going into next year. What that really means is, as we look to the trade market as we get to the GM meetings, we want to be able to not have our hands tied. For example, if we had not picked up the option, and all of a sudden we feel there’s a trade that might make sense for us that’s going to have to include a starter, then we’re left with having to backfill.

“Given what Jaime was able to accomplish last year, clearly it didn’t end the way he would’ve liked it to, but he still ate a lot of valuable innings for us. When I think about what’s out there on the free-agent market, I still think it’s an asset to have. … And what if we have to move someone else? It would be nice to still have the depth in our rotation.”

The whole idea of chasing the Cubs is interesting, because it’s the first time since the invention of Central Divisions that a fellow NL Central team won the World Series. So you’ve got this juggernaut that’s in your division — and it’s young and built to win it again. You don’t want to play a whole season chasing the idea of the wild-card game and “just getting in.” You want to usurp.

And so, I’m not enamored by Jhonny Peralta as the starting third baseman. Yes, his lack of production has been due, in part, to recovery time after an injury. But he turns 35 next May. He slugged a combined .410 in the past two seasons. He could very well get hurt again anyway. Is this a guy worthy of a 4-through-6 spot in a lineup that’s supposed to make the playoffs?

Man, if the Cards could somehow nab third baseman Evan Longoria from Tampa, as well as center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, this would move the needle.

“The city of St. Louis expects us to compete, expects us to win and that’s how we’re going to approach this offseason,” Mozeliak said. “Just because of what you saw happen north of us, doesn’t mean we should make irrational decisions or do something that’s going to affect, maybe, 2018, ’19 and ’20.

“So thinking about this from a 25,000-foot level, we want to make sure we’re still smart about it. I mean, I get it. They had tremendous success and look like they’re built for the future and that’s what we have to contend with. You look at our team, there’s a lot to be excited about — as far as your Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyeses of the world — but we also want to make sure we’re not doing something we look back on and say, ‘That was a short-term game.’”

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Benjamin Hochman is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch