New acquisitions come with complications for Matheny, Cardinals

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny answers a question from a reporter during a media availability at baseball's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As much as Mike Matheny likes the addition of the newest Cardinals, he admits that both acquisitions come with complications.

For shortstop Jhonny Peralta, there’s the stigma of being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs.

For center fielder Peter Bourjos, there’s the man who played center last season, Jon Jay.

Both newcomers have plenty to earn come spring training, particularly Peralta in light of criticism from outside players after the club handed him a four-year, $52 million deal.

“There is always going to be a cloud,” Matheny said at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. “It’s part of the risk you take when you try to fight the system. It’s not fun, it’s not easy and we’re not going to try to cover up that it’s not true. It is. There is negative that comes with those decisions.”

If Matheny has his way — and you can bank he will — Peralta won’t have to deal with negativity in his own clubhouse. Matheny said he has been impressed in his communications with Peralta as well as from reports from Detroit about the kind of teammate the soft-spoken 31-year-old Dominican is.

“There are other people out there that may not like our stance and think of us as hypocritical. So be it,” Matheny said. “But for us, we see a guy who made a decision that he regrets. He didn’t fight to pay the price. He paid it. Now we’re part of his future.

“Jhonny has handled it extremely well. Been very proud from the outside of him being part of our club now. He’s been very remorseful but taking it like a man. He made a mistake. This is what’s happened. Now I’d like to move on. I get that. I’d like to help him move on, but part of it is just sitting in stuff sometimes. Right now he’s sitting in it. Hopefully he uses it in a positive way somehow. These trials in life present a great opportunity to make a great change.”

Regarding the projected change in center field, Matheny stopped short of anointing the newcomer Bourjos as his everyday guy. While Matheny admitted that Jay might “have lost a step” compared to his play in 2012, the manager has liked what he has heard from Jay since the Bourjos trade.

“I know Jon Jay has been looking forward to coming out and showing what he can do,” Matheny said. “I know Peter Bourjos is very excited about a new life and an opportunity to make an impact on the club. The things that he brings are very exciting. So it will be an opportunity for everybody to come out and show what they can do.”

Matheny’s first full day at the meetings was a busy one as he made his appointed rounds for assorted media outlets to address the addition of the newest Cardinals for the first time.

Wednesday won’t be much slower. During a meeting of all general managers and managers, Matheny will take center stage to state his case for banning collisions at the plate. If he gathers enough support — and momentum is building — a rule change could be implemented by the start of 2014, according to Mozeliak. The Cardinals are on board for the change, if for no other reason than to protect Yadier Molina.

At the session, scheduled for four hours, MLB executive Tony La Russa is scheduled to roll out specifics on the workings of expanded instant replay, which is expected to be in place by Opening Day. Mozeliak said he doesn’t remember the last time all the GMs as well as managers convened for such a meeting.

“Historically, we don’t even have meetings when we’re here,” he said.

Notes from another day when the hot stove remained cool for St. Louis:

** Jaime Garcia might not have locked up a spot in the rotation, but he holds the key to one. His recovery from shoulder surgery was so far along when the season ended that Mozeliak said the lefty is having a normal off-season and is expected to report to spring training with no limitations.  

“The big thing is how he’s pitching,” Mozeliak said. “We are certainly bullish on how he’s going to look. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the rotation.”

Matheny said he had not talked to unseated shortstop Pete Kozma since the Peralta signing but had exchanged text messages. “He understands,” Matheny said. “He understands that you’ve got to continue to improve. He also understands this is a business. The team has to be committed and continue to move forward.”

** Even though the projected bullpen will be stocked with 25-and-unders, Mozeliak does not see a need to bring in a veteran reliever. “I don’t feel this group needs that veteran leadership anymore,” he said. “These guys have gotten a lot of experience the last couple of years in some pretty high-leverage situations. We’ll still have the presence of (Randy) Choate, so I think we’re OK.”

** The club is close to announcing the hiring of former Cardinals third baseman David Bell as assistant hitting coach. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday the club had identified Bell as Bengie Molina’s successor but Mozeliak declined to confirm the hire because administrative hurdles still need to be cleared.

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