Manager Mike Matheny spent much of his media session at the winter meetings Tuesday talking about how the Cardinals will improve their defense and baserunning next year. (St. Louis Cardinals/Twitter)


By Rob Rains

The Cardinals have been consistent so far this winter in stressing that the two areas on the team that need the most improvement next season are defense and baserunning.

Manager Mike Matheny, in his annual session with reporters at the winter meetings on Tuesday, addressed both topics again, expressing confidence that the improvement will come.

“On the defensive side, what we'd like to see more of is just the consistency,” Matheny said. “I think that's pretty universal with everybody. We understand that we have some players with some great talent and I think you also have to be pretty realistic that we're still talking about quite a few players that are young in this game. When you have youth, you have inconsistencies, but you see some of the athleticism, and when you start talking about a Kolten Wong and you talk about the capabilities that he has and how he moves; you talk about a Randal (Grichuk) -- whether he's in center or left or right, wherever you put him, the athleticism is there, but the consistencies that led to two players like that having time in Triple-A.”

The Cardinals committed 107 errors last year, their most in five years, which ranked fifth in the NL.

Matheny thinks that total can go down just through the experience shortstop Aledmys Diaz and second baseman Kolten Wong gained last year, even though there is still a possibility Wong could be one of the players traded to acquire a new center fielder, which remains the team’s top priority this winter.

“Kolten has had success at every level offensively, and that doesn't disappear,” Matheny said. “It's just part of the process for a young player. I think he's a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman. And he's going to have to go out there and he's going to have fight through some of those lulls that the game just brings. I saw him grow up last year through the adversity, and I see some exciting things ahead for him.”

Matheny said improving the baserunning will be a topic which will be stressed in spring training. There were more problems last year than just stealing bases, where the Cardinals ranked last in the NL with just 35 steals. They also had 26 runners caught stealing.

“We’re going right back to the drawing board when it comes down to the basics of baserunning, when it comes down to how we can be that defensive team that we need to be, which we know internally influences our pitching,” Matheny said. “They go hand-in-hand. We believe there's just improvement -- and this is being fed, also, as we finished last season and talking to the guys on the team and having them really be evaluators of not just themselves but the club.

“When we get buy-in, we know there could be some wholesale changes. We've had those discussions. We've given guys opportunities to weigh in as well, and we believe there's another level of baseball for us, and just the consistency, the excitement that we're talking about of playing the game the right way.”

Despite missing the playoffs for the first time in his tenure as the Cardinals’ manager, Matheny still found some positives to draw on from last season which he wants to use as a jumping off point to begin next season.

“You can't teach a team to compete like our team competed,” Matheny said. “You can't teach the fight and the heart that our club had. And that is, has -- it's not just had; it's something that you don't lose. It's something we need to build on.

“A team that's been accustomed to playing into October, well into October, you have the fortunate position of seeing what it looks like to get where you want to go, and then be able to see that there are some deficiencies in certain spots. I thought the guys did a real nice job of being honest with themselves and with us of where they felt we can get better, and we were all on the same page.”