Cardinals shifting Carpenter to first base

St. Louis hoping to shore up infield defense in 2017

Cardinals shifting Carpenter to first base

ST. LOUIS -- With the Hot Stove season just beginning, the Cardinals' activity has thus far been limited to some 40-man roster housecleaning and coaching staff additions. However, John Mozeliak, speaking from the General Managers Meetings in Arizona on Tuesday, also acknowledged that the team has settled on a first baseman.

Matt Carpenter, once an All-Star second baseman, then an All-Star third baseman, is now projected to open the 2017 season at first base. The move will bring some stability to a position that saw three players -- Matt Adams, Brandon Moss and Carpenter -- make at least 35 starts there in 2016.

Hot Stove tracker | CF priority | Eyeing upgrades

It also offers insight into the Cardinals' plans elsewhere across the infield. With the team's offseason priorities concentrated in the outfield and the bullpen, St. Louis is counting on improvement from within as it seeks to stabilize the infield defense.

"There were a lot of moving parts," Mozeliak said of the 2016 club. "It was a little unsettling, and it didn't quite work. But I think going into Spring Training in 2017 with a more stable look [will help]. Not that we didn't think going into '16 it wasn't going to be stable, [but] some things happened … and it certainly didn't work."

Some of the 2016 shuffling was forced by injuries. In other instances, it was the product of ineffectiveness. The end result was the Cardinals having just one player make more than 70 starts at a single infield position all year.

Mozeliak said the club has already communicated its plans with Carpenter so that he can use the next several months to prepare for the move. Carpenter did start 35 games at first last season, almost all of those coming once Moss was shifted to left field to replace an injured Matt Holliday. Carpenter compiled 1 Defensive Runs Saved at first base, compared to a -8 DRS at second and a 2 DRS at third.

Where the Cardinals specifically need defensive stability is up the middle, and they hope to get it from Aledmys Diaz and Kolten Wong. On Tuesday, Mozeliak offered a vote of confidence in both, though he also indicated that the club will look to enhance its depth in case either falters.

The expectation is that Diaz, who had a standout rookie season at the plate, will improve in the field with increased exposure. The Cardinals saw that to some extent as the 2016 season went on and Diaz got more comfortable.

"I'm pretty excited about Diaz," Mozeliak said. "I'm definitely high on him. I think he can be a talent, but we have to make sure we're protected. If you're thinking about sustained success, how do you deal with something that doesn't go as you hoped or as you planned? It's creating enough depth to give us protection there."

Diaz's stellar grab at shortstop

The Cardinals opened 2016 with Wong as the starting second baseman, but manager Mike Matheny pulled away his playing time while he sloshed through struggles at the plate. Though Wong finished the season slashing .240/.327/.355, the Cardinals intend to recommit to a player they signed to a five-year extension in March.

For an organization seeking to inject athleticism into its lineup and stabilize the defense, it's a move that makes sense.

"I think he has a chance to be a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman," Mozeliak said. "I think a lot of times things that bog him down are the offensive struggles, but I still think he can be an exciting bat and exciting everyday player."

Wong's diving play

Barring any acquisitions this winter, the Cardinals will then fill third with some combination of Jedd Gyorko and Jhonny Peralta. Gyorko will also be an option to spell time at short, while Peralta, depending on the shape he's in next year, could emerge as a backup at short.

What's perhaps most unclear is where the fit is for Adams. With no defensive versatility, Adams, right now, stands to serve as a backup behind Carpenter. He is also a candidate to be traded as the Cardinals seek to address other areas of need.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.