Few moves, but Cards still emerge from Winter Meetings a winner

Few moves, but Cards still emerge from Winter Meetings a winner

Published Dec. 12, 2013 10:57 a.m. ET

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If you're familiar with the three players the Cardinals' organization acquired at the Winter Meetings, you must be a family relative or spend many, many hours following baseball.

Right-hander Angel Castro and infielders Greg Miclat and Jesus Ustariz are not exactly household names outside of their own household. If any of the minor leaguers make it to Busch Stadium in 2014, it likely will mean the season has taken a bad turn for the Cardinals.

But even though they didn't find the right-handed-hitting backup infielder they're seeking, the Cardinals left the Dolphin and Swan Resort on Thursday as one of the off-season's big winners for at least four reasons:

-- They didn't lose anyone outside of three farmhands taken in the minor league portion of Thursday's Rule 5 draft, which is where they added Miclat and Ustariz. Both are ticketed for Memphis, as is Castro after signing as a minor league free agent.

In other words, St. Louis' stockpile of young arms remains intact. The club's resolve to keep all its young pitching has become so known that general manager John Mozeliak says he doesn't get as many clubs calling "as you might think."

-- The trade for Peter Bourjos is viewed outside of the organization as anything from a steal on the Cardinals' part to merely an excellent move. This is partly because the Cardinals didn't have to give up any more pitching than Fernando Salas as well as David Freese, along with his dismal post-season and regular-season decline on offense and defense.

Mostly, though, it's because of Bourjos' potential. Scouts are impressed with not only his off-the-scale speed, but his instincts and makeup. The son of a longtime scout who played briefly in the majors, Bourjos is a player who rarely makes a mental mistake. One scout said Bourjos also should thrive being away from the Angels, where Mike Scioscia is known to have a way of putting undue pressure on some players. His .306 on-base percentage is virtually certain to improve simply by hitting him in front of the pitcher.

-- While a few outside players have criticized handing $52 million to a known PED user, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, other teams understand the deal. Rules are rules. Peralta paid for breaking one with a 50-game suspension. The Cardinals hardly were the only team pursuing him. His agent, in fact, confirmed to me that Peralta had more lucrative offers but wanted to play in St. Louis.

His agent, Diego Bentz of SFX, made another point that said a lot about Peralta's makeup. Because they acquired slick-fielding Jose Iglesias during Peralta's suspension to play shortstop, the Tigers planned to move Peralta to left field after his return. To prepare, they sent him to the instructional league a week before his suspension ended. But in five games, Peralta said not a single ball was hit to him.

Though he understandably was nervous about the move, he never flinched. Of course, he wasn't in much of a position to complain, but the way he played in the playoffs -- hitting .333 -- said much about his resolve.  

Peralta changed agents during his suspension, dropping a company that had come under scrutiny for having a number of clients associated with the Biogenesis scandal to hook on with SFX, a company that represents numerous Tigers.  

From what his agent said, Peralta sounds about as Midwestern as anyone from the Dominican Republic can. He's blue-collar (his PED suspension reportedly was for a weight-loss substance), mild-mannered, married to a woman from Cleveland and has spent his career in Cleveland and Detroit.

-- Finally, manager Mike Matheny's campaign to ban collisions at the plate took a huge step forward. At this point, in fact, a rule change could be in place by Opening Day. (I wonder, though, if a point Torii Hunter raised on MLB Network might slow momentum. Hunter has no objection to protecting catchers but says base runners will be at risk when a catcher drops a knee to block the plate.)

Matheny spoke at two meetings Wednesday to support banning collisions and, a couple of hours after the second one, MLB held a news conference to announce it had approved a change. Though it still must be OK'd by the players association, Matheny was pleased with the progress.

"There are still some hurdles potentially there, but it seems like the group began to realize that there is an opportunity to do something here for the good of the game," he told mlb.com.

As for not finding infield insurance for rookie Kolten Wong while at the meetings, the Cardinals were not disappointed. Even if neither Mark Ellis nor Brian Roberts works out soon, more than 3 1/2 months remain before Opening Day.

"I don't want to say we're laying in the weeds. We're simply trying to keep the pulse of what's happening," Mozeliak said Wednesday evening. "If we can do something, we will. But it's not something where we feel like it has to happen before we leave."

It didn't, but the Cardinals still headed home as off-season winners.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.