Manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak held their annual end of the year session with the media on Wednesday.

By Rob Rains

Identifying the two areas the Cardinals believe they need to improve the most next season is the easy part. It’s how to upgrade the defense and baserunning that will be the off-season challenge.

General Manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny held their annual wrap-up session with the media on Wednesday, three days after the Cardinals’ season ended without reaching the playoffs for the first time in six years.

For Matheny, it’s the first time in his five seasons as manager he did not guide a team into the playoffs.

“It’s the first time we’ve had October free in a while,” Mozeliak said. “As a group collectively we will catch our breath and then we will focus on what our 2017 strategy should look like.”

The two areas which both the manager and general manager addressed on Wednesday as needing to be improved, however, were the impact poor defense and baserunning had on the Cardinals going from a 100-win season in 2015 to 86 wins this year.

“As we sat here last year one of the things we wanted to focus on was improving our offense, and I feel we checked the box, but you could argue at what cost,” Mozeliak said. “It’s certainly fair game.”

Mozeliak admitted the team could have been guilty of emphasizing offense over defense when it came to acquiring players last year.

“I do think that part of it, from a front office standpoint, is something we need to reassess when we think about how we evaluate players,” Mozeliak said.

The Cardinals saw their home run total jump from 137 to 225 this year, the most in the National League, but saw their error total rise for the fourth consecutive year. Their stolen base total fell from 69 to 35, their fewest steals in a season since 1953.

Neither of those raw numbers, however, is an accurate measure of the problems the Cardinals had both on defense and running the bases. One of the buzzwords for the season became “non plays” a way to describe a play which could have, and should have, been made but wasn’t but could not be recorded as an error.

The baserunning problems included running into multiple outs, an aggressive style which led to mistakes which often took away scoring opportunities.

One position where the Cardinals could upgrade both defensively and running is center field, where Randal Grichuk had the bulk of the starts this year. Bringing in a new centerfielder, either through a trade or by signing a free agent, would allow Grichuk to move to left field to replace the departing Matt Holliday.

“You look at our club almost like a station to station team,” Mozeliak said. “If there was a way we could inject some athleticism or speed to this team, I think you could forego a little of that power. We’ve looked at addressing speed and athleticism for many years and we just haven’t been able to come up with that right combination.

“We’re hoping when you look at this team with guys like (Stephen) Piscotty, (Kolten) Wong, Grichuk, that they can take that extra base. When you see what’s out there and see if there’s a way to inject some of that type of talent onto this club it would be welcoming.”

Improving both areas, Mozeliak believes, should provide a boost for the pitching staff. The team allowed 56 unearned runs last year, but again, that total does not take into account the “non plays.” Overall, the team allowed 187 more runs than in 2015, as their staff ERA rose from 2.94 to 4.08, the highest it has been since 2008. The composite ERA for the starters went from 2.99 in 2015 to 4.33.

“When you look at this team compared to a year ago I think the biggest difference is the rotation and defense,” Mozeliak said. “Even though we had the uptick in offense, I think the runs given up was something that ended up penalizing us.

“As we look to 2017 it’s going to have to be, ‘How do we look to minimize giving up those runs?”

Mozeliak said reducing the extra pitches and extra outs the pitchers had to get because of the sloppy defense could help achieve that goal, the same as it will if it can reduce the number of times they ran into outs.

“If we clean it up, I think all of them benefit from that,” he said. “If we do a better job there I think we should be a better club.”

The Cardinals expect Lance Lynn to be one of the five starters after missing this season because of Tommy John surgery. Alex Reyes will take another of the spots, joining Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake.

That group does not include Jaime Garcia, and Mozeliak said the team will take the next month to decide whether they will pick up his option for next season.

“We just have to see what makes the most sense,” Mozeliak said. “As we sat here a year ago we felt very comfortable with our rotation depth and you saw how quickly that got tested in spring training. There’s not much on the free agent pitching market, so if we felt like we were going to come up short at some point we would probably be better off just securing him, but I think we are going to need the 30 days to sort through this.”

Some of the other notes and quotes to come out of the hour-long session on Wednesday:

• Mozeliak said he expects to decide by next week if there will be any changes to the coaching staff, either in personnel or their assignments. He re-iterated that he expects Jose Oquendo to remain working with minor leaguers in Jupiter, Fla., and not return to the major-league staff.

• Mozeliak said he expects to address Matheny’s contract status at some point this winter. The manager’s current contract expires after next season.

• The team shut down its instructional league program in Jupiter two days early because of Hurricane Matthew is approaching the area. All personnel were evacuated, Mozeliak said, and the players from the Dominican Republic who could not return home because of the storm were moved inland.

• Seung Hwan Oh will remain the teams’s closer going into next spring after taking over for an injured Trevor Rosenthal for the second half of the season. “He was pretty good, and there’s no reason to take anything away from him, that’s for certain,” Matheny said.

• The team will address Rosenthal’s status at some point, and admitted he could possibly become a starter.

• On potential free agent Brandon Moss’s future with the Cardinals, Mozeliak said, “I do see there being a possible role for him and I do feel as I sit here a few days after the season, one of the challenges is to look at what we could look like or do we sort of want to repeat what we had.”

• Mozeliak said, “This is a young team. We are going to have new faces and new leadership. This next generation is excited about the challenges.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains