ST. LOUIS -- Though the Cardinals posted a National League-best .988 fielding percentage in 2013, the low error count merely provided a mask for the team's defensive deficiencies.
By all accounts (except fielding percentage), the Cardinals were a subpar defensive team last year -- Yadier Molina, of course, remaining the exception. That prompted general manager John Mozeliak to seek ways to improve the club's defense over the winter, and he arguably did so with one November trade.
The acquisition of Peter Bourjos immediately turned center field into a position of strength for St. Louis. It also prompted movement in the infield, with Matt Carpenter moving to third and Kolten Wong sliding into second. With the upgrades and changes, the expectation for performance has risen.
"I think it's an area that we felt could be improved and whether it's by personnel or whether it's by improving the people we have, and I think both have happened this winter," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's a great task ahead of us as well as seeing how these new guys fit and realizing that we put some guys in place here that could potentially make us better at different spots on the field. All that is reason to have the expectation that we're going to walk into Spring Training fully anticipating that we're going to be one of the best defensive teams in baseball."
Bourjos, who is expected to begin the season as the team's primary center fielder, will be key in the Cardinals' attempts to turn defense into an area of strength.
"A solid defense is going to save a lot of runs," Bourjos said. "It's going to take pressure off your offense, and it's going to take pressure off your pitcher, too. I think, overall, it's just going to help the team."
His speed will save runs, but the Cardinals also anticipate it creating some. Bourjos, who is likely to find a place in the bottom-third of the lineup, has set his sights on a stolen base total of 40. The Cardinals haven't had a player reach that total since Delino DeShields swiped 55 in 1997.
Bourjos stole 22 bases, still a career high, in 147 games in 2011. He did reach 50 in '08 while playing in Class A Advanced.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.