Mozeliak keeping options open heading into Winter Meetings

ST. LOUIS — While Busch Stadium will be awash in a winter wonderland next week, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak will be kicking back in 80 degrees and sunshine at Disney World.

It sure is nice to finish your primary off-season business before Thanksgiving. Before the disappointment of losing the World Series hardly had faded, the Cardinals already had found a new shortstop, Jhonny Peralta, and center fielder, Peter Bourjos, and worked out a three-year contract extension with manager Mike Matheny.

“It all lined up nicely for us,” Mozeliak said when announcing the signing of shortstop Peralta.

Of course, despite his busy November, Mozeliak isn’t likely to be caught on Space Mountain next week. He still figures to spend most of his time at the Winter Meetings holed up in his suite at the Swan & Dolphin Resort. Trying to improve a baseball team is a never-ending job.

Who knows? Maybe David Price could be had for a package featuring the likes of Lance Lynn, Jon Jay, Pete Kozma and Tyler Lyons. It doesn’t hurt to ask, or to listen.

“I look at the next six, seven, eight weeks as opportunistic,” Mozeliak said at the Peralta presser. “If there was something that made sense, we’d have to think about it. I will candidly say nothing seems like it will but it won’t hurt to explore some things.”

The one area where Mozeliak is certain to explore is help for the Cardinals’ bench, specifically a right-handed hitting infielder. Because the club prefers to keep its pitching depth in tact, Mozeliak is likely to do his shopping on the free-agent market instead of by trading.

There is no shortage of candidates, most of them a safe bet to bring far more to the table than Ty Wigginton, who hit just .158 before he was dumped at the All-Star break after signing a two-year, $5 million deal. None of them, however, are ideal. There’s a reason they’re bench players, after all.

Justin Turner, non-tendered by the Mets, is a decent offensive player but sub-par defensively. Jayson Nix, non-tendered by the Yankees, once showed a decent amount of power but has totaled only 11 homers in the past three seasons. Another non-tender, switch-hitting Elliott Johnson, enjoyed some nice games after being picked up by the Braves late last season, but finished with a batting average eight points less than Pete Kozma’s .217.

There are veterans on the downhill side of strong careers such as Mark Ellis, Michael Young, Placido Polanco and Juan Uribe. All have seen their share of postseason play and all can man more than one position. But they might not be ready to settle into a backup role.

In the unlikely event that the Cardinals don’t find bench help at the Winter Meetings, there would be worse options than giving Kozma a chance. After all, they just won the NL pennant with him as their primary shortstop.

“If the clock stopped today (on the off-season), we’d be pretty happy with our club,” Mozeliak admitted.

But he still plans to use his time in Florida to make it even better.

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