ST. LOUIS -- Though the Cardinals posted a National League-best .988 fielding percentage in 2013, the low error count merely provided a mask for the team's defensive deficiencies.
By all accounts (except fielding percentage), the Cardinals were a subpar defensive team last year -- Yadier Molina, of course, remaining the exception. That prompted general manager John Mozeliak to seek ways to improve the club's defense over the winter, and he arguably did so with one November trade.
The acquisition of Peter Bourjos immediately turned center field into a position of strength for St. Louis. It also prompted movement in the infield, with Matt Carpenter moving to third and Kolten Wong sliding into second. With the upgrades and changes, the expectation for performance has risen.
"I think it's an area that we felt could be improved and whether it's by personnel or whether it's by improving the people we have, and I think both have happened this winter," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's a great task ahead of us as well as seeing how these new guys fit and realizing that we put some guys in place here that could potentially make us better at different spots on the field. All that is reason to have the expectation that we're going to walk into Spring Training fully anticipating that we're going to be one of the best defensive teams in baseball."
Bourjos, who is expected to begin the season as the team's primary center fielder, will be key in the Cardinals' attempts to turn defense into an area of strength.
"A solid defense is going to save a lot of runs," Bourjos said. "It's going to take pressure off your offense, and it's going to take pressure off your pitcher, too. I think, overall, it's just going to help the team."
His speed will save runs, but the Cardinals also anticipate it creating some. Bourjos, who is likely to find a place in the bottom-third of the lineup, has set his sights on a stolen base total of 40. The Cardinals haven't had a player reach that total since Delino DeShields swiped 55 in 1997.
Bourjos stole 22 bases, still a career high, in 147 games in 2011. He did reach 50 in '08 while playing in Class A Advanced.
Wacha focused on earning spot in rotation
ST. LOUIS -- Unwilling to cruise on the coattails of his October success, Michael Wacha said he intends to come to Spring Training expecting to have to win a spot in the rotation. Such is the reality for a postseason darling when on a pitching staff that includes five other starters with more experience and their own impressive accolades.
Undoubtedly, Wacha will get strong consideration for a place in the Opening Day rotation. And if he cracks it, expectations will be high. Such is the consequence of having a breakout month on the national stage.
"I'm sure there are going to be some high expectations from people putting [them] on me," Wacha said. "But I can't really pay much attention to those guys. I have my own expectations for myself that I try to live up to. I think if I'm able to do that, things will be pretty good. Even down the stretch there in the postseason, the main goal was just to try not to do too much and to stay within myself. It ended up working out pretty well, so I'm going to take that same mentality into this year as well."
The postseason went more than "pretty well" for Wacha, who followed a near no-hitter the final week of the regular season with four straight wins in October. That included an elimination-game victory over the Pirates, the series clincher against the Dodgers and the team's only win at Fenway Park. Along the way, Wacha earned National League Championship Series MVP honors.
"I really wasn't expecting it," Wacha said of the overwhelming postseason success. "The goal was just to try to go out there and win a game for this team. And it ended up being a pretty special year."
With the added month to the season, Wacha ended up pitching 180 1/3 innings, slightly more than the range the Cardinals planned for him. Wacha said he did not feel the added stress on his arm at the end of the run, but he did shut down from throwing until just before Christmas to give his arm adequate rest.
The Cardinals' foresight to skip Wacha in the Triple-A rotation a few times over the summer also helped conserve innings for later in the year.
With the workload he carried last season, Wacha would seemingly be positioned to push toward 200 innings this year. However, manager Mike Matheny said the organization will still be cautious with its expectations because of Wacha's relative inexperience. He is less than two years removed from pitching in college.
"Michael's going to be in a different boat because he's had less experience as a professional pitcher," Matheny explained. "So we're going to have to be creative how to keep him on target."
That does not make Wacha any less likely to break the Opening Day rotation, though it could result in his spot being skipped (like Shelby Miller in 2013) to better manage the work. First, though, he has to get through the spring.
"It's unbelievable our team right now, unbelievable arms," Wacha said. "It's going to be a competition throughout Spring Training. It's going to be a fun one."
Holliday, Rosenthal work out using 'NFL program'
ST. LOUIS -- Two years ago, Matt Holliday introduced games of squash into his offseason workout program. The activity fostered fun competition with then-teammate David Freese, while also testing instinct, footwork and adjustments.
This winter, the focus has been all on strength.
Holliday, alongside Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, has been participating in what Rosenthal described as "an NFL program." What exactly does such a workout regimen entail?
"Sled pushing, tire flipping and some fireman carries," Holliday explained. Those carries have been reciprocated, with each player taking his turn carrying the other for about 20 meters.
"We have a whole new relationship," Holliday said, "throwing our sweaty bodies on top of each other."
Rosenthal, who worked out regularly with Chris Carpenter last winter, has bulked up in preparation for pitching out of the bullpen. While still hopeful of one day getting the opportunity to start, Rosenthal has been told he'll open 2014 as the Cardinals' closer.
"I still want to build up arm strength, but I'm not having to worry about the endurance of throwing 150 pitches," Rosenthal said. "Luckily, last year throughout the season, having the opportunity to be in the bullpen the whole year, I definitely have a lot to reflect back on."
"Trevor and I are pretty close," Holliday added. "We have been pretty close since last offseason. He likes to work out. He's a hard worker, takes this thing real serious. A lot like me, he wants to be the very best that he can be. It's been fun to see his discipline and his effort and sort of how he wants to be the best and I admire that."
Holliday, 34, has had intensive offseason workout programs for years. Immersing himself in tough winter work is one way in which he hopes to later gain an on-field edge.
"I think, at the end of the day, that I got everything I possibly could get out of the offseason -- training, diet, doing everything I can to be as disciplined as I possibly can," Holliday said. "A lot of time when your workouts are hard, that's how I get through them. As you get older you have to outwork them. That's kind of the approach that I take."
Holliday has no issues with new teammate Peralta
ST. LOUIS -- Matt Holliday, long outspoken against player use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, said on Monday that he does not feel it necessary for Jhonny Peralta to address his new teammates or apologize again for his recent connection to Biogenesis.
Cardinals management was willing to look past Peralta's past -- which included a 50-game suspension in 2013 for violating MLB's drug policy -- when it signed him to a four-year, $53-million contract in November. General manager John Mozeliak called Holliday before the signing to notify him of the organization's decision, and Holliday let him know Peralta would be welcomed in the clubhouse.
"I am against PEDs and always will be," Holliday said. "I'm also a forgiving person. He served his suspension and those are the rules of the game. I'm happy to have him as a teammate.
"He took the suspension, served it. His teammates in Detroit welcomed him back. I don't think it's necessarily something that he has to address. If he did, if he wants to, then that's his prerogative. I don't think as his teammates, that's anything we expect."
Holliday has not yet had a chance to meet Peralta, though he did send the 31-year-old shortstop a text message welcoming him to the club after the signing.
Holliday also emphasized on Monday that while he has publicly advocated for lengthier suspensions in the ongoing pursuit of a clean game, his opinion is hardly unique. Holliday merely fields more PED-related questions because of how outspoken he has been on the topic in past interviews.
"I don't think I'm any different than anyone else, other than being a player who has played a long time and had a platform to say that," Holliday said. "I think all players who are clean are against it. We all want a level playing field so that at the end of our careers we can say, 'This is how I matched up against other guys who were doing it the right way'. I think all players who are clean are very much against PEDs and trying to get them out of the game. How are we going to do that? Well, the only way that I know is to make the suspension harsher."
• Peter Bourjos made his first public appearance as a Cardinal on Monday, but said he was already well prepared for the welcome he received from fans. He had Albert Pujols, a teammate of Bourjos' in Anaheim, to thank for the scouting report.
"He said it's awesome," Bourjos said. "He called me the day I got traded, and he was really happy for me. He couldn't tell me nice enough things about playing for the Cardinals and the town and everything. He said the fans understand the game and they're going to root for both sides; if a guy makes a nice play for the other side, they're going to cheer for him. They understand the game of baseball and how it is supposed to be played. That's something that is nice to hear."
• The Cardinals plan to have as many as eight pitchers vie for a starting rotation spot during Spring Training. Said manager Mike Matheny on that competition: "I would say it's fierce. I want these guys all showing up competing, no matter who they are or how long they've been around or what accolades they've been given. That mindset that I have to come out and earn my job is real important. That's something we've been very, very blessed around here to have."
• According to Matheny, Jaime Garcia will not have a modified Spring Training plan this year. Garcia, who has wrapped up his rehab work from left shoulder surgery, will be one of those pitchers battling for a place in the rotation.
• The St. Louis Baseball writers hosted their annual awards dinner on Sunday night, during which Tony La Russa was celebrated for his recent election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. At the end of his speech, La Russa noted that the best decision John Mozeliak will make during his tenure as general manager was hiring Matheny to replace La Russa.
A day later, Matheny, who was also honored at the dinner, admitted to being totally caught off guard by the compliment.
"When you hear one of the greatest managers of all time pay a compliment to the organization, to Mo and to myself that's something that I just don't dismiss," Matheny said. "I also realize that he knows, too, that I walked into a really good situation here, and it's something that I'm very, very grateful for. And he knows, too, that I have got a long way to go and that I've been fortunate to use him as a resource to help me move in a positive direction. So I took that as a great compliment from one of the greatest baseball minds I've ever been around."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.