John Mozeliak has built enough championship clubs in St. Louis he immediately recognized after the Cardinals failed to make the playoffs last season that changes needed to be made.
The president of baseball operations also knew they were close.
So with an aggressive approach to the offseason, Mozeliak traded for six-time All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to provide some pop to his lineup, then he signed two-time All-Star reliever Andrew Miller to a two-year, $25-million contract to close out games at the back of the bullpen.
Suddenly, the two biggest holes facing Mozeliak had been filled.
Now, the Cardinals head to Florida confident any remaining questions will be answered in spring training, and they have the team to contend in the tough NL Central this season.
"We knew we just couldn't have a stagnant offseason. We knew what to make our changes to our club," Mozeliak said, "because we felt like even though we had a good team, we still weren't good enough."
The Cardinals were quite good down the stretch, thanks in part to the midseason managerial change that put Mike Shildt in charge. But they came up short of the playoffs with about a week to go in the season, leaving Mozeliak to wonder whether a couple of changes would have made a difference.
Well, he'll find out soon.
With the exception of Goldschmidt and Miller, the Cardinals return largely intact. Their starting rotation headlined by right-handers Carlos Martinez Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty is relatively young but talented, while the bullpen with Jordan Hicks handing the ball to Miller has become quite stout.
"We like our everyday club and we like our rotation or the potential of our rotation and how that rotation shakes out will dictate how the bullpen looks like," Mozeliak said.
Among the questions facing the Cardinals in spring training are whether outfielder Dexter Fowler can rebound from an abysmal season, whether catcher Yadier Ozuna and outfielder Marcell Ozuna can stay healthy and whether the Cardinals' depth up and down the roster will sort itself out.
"Guys are hungry. They're eager," Shildt said. "Players in our clubhouse have full autonomy to challenge respectfully what we say and what we do and what we think. It's not us versus them. It's us with them. We're a team. We want to do our best to go forward and get to the promised land."
Pitchers and catchers report Tuesday to Jupiter, Fla.
Goldschmidt and Miller are without question the biggest plums, but keep an eye on Tyler O'Neill, who could arrive at some point. The 23-year-old will be battling for playing time in the outfield despite hitting 24 homers in just 64 games with Triple-A Memphis last season, and belted nine of them in 61 games with the Cardinals.
"I'm going to spring and just play ball," he said. "I'm not going to worry about it. I can't worry about it."
RHP Alex Reyes has been the top prospect in the Cardinals organization the past three years, and the only reason he remains on that list is injuries. Tommy John surgery ended his season two years ago and a torn back muscle ended last season early. The 24-year-old Reyes could become a front-of-the-rotation ace if he's able to stay healthy.
Mozeliak said during the Cardinals' Winter Fan Fest adding any pieces in spring training would just muddy things up. They are particularly stout at the corner infield spots with Goldschmidt and 3B Matt Carpenter. Molina and Ozuna must stay healthy, though, or the offense won't live up to expectations.
The bullpen might be the only spot the Cardinals look for veteran help, though that could come from a starter who fails to make the rotation. The back end sets up well with Jordan Hicks handling the eighth inning and Miller closing games out.
The biggest problem facing the Cardinals is they reside in what could be the toughest division in baseball. The Cubs are favored again while the Brewers are coming off a strong postseason run. But with a few big acquisitions, along with help from within, the Cardinals could leap both of them when they open the regular season March 28 in Milwaukee.