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Redbirds seek another starter, a closer and another lefthanded reliever

Redbirds seek another starter, a closer and another lefthanded reliever
LAS VEGAS - They have re-signed last season's leading winner, retained a veteran backup catcher, agreed upon then renegotiated a deal with a lefthanded reliever and addressed the most significant half of a void at middle infield.

The Cardinals' front office doesn't arrive at Major League Baseball's annual winter meetings until Sunday afternoon. But they got moving weeks ago.

Having promised an "aggressive" and "creative" winter, second-year general manager John Mozeliak checks in to The Bellagio with a reordered punch list.

Manager Tony La Russa may go without his Christmas wish of another impact bat to better protect MVP first baseman Albert Pujols, and second baseman Adam Kennedy may not be traded as he requested shortly after the Cardinals' acquisition of current free agent Felipe Lopez in August.

Instead, Mozeliak will seek pitching, pitching ... and perhaps more pitching with his remaining resources.

The Cardinals' public endorsement of Chris Carpenter's recovery from a season-ending nerve condition hardly means that the situation no longer factors into their off-season approach. With $6.5 million tied to new shortstop Khalil Greene following Wednesday night's trade with the San Diego Padres, a team frustrated last summer by injuries to its starting rotation and an inefficient bullpen still seeks another starter, a closer and another lefthanded reliever.

Mozeliak devoted most of his time at November's general managers meetings laying foundation for trades. The Greene deal sprouted suddenly last week; however, Mozeliak made known last month that he desires a short-term trade solution to address the ninth inning and the starting rotation.

Signing veteran lefthander Trever Miller to an incentive-laden one-year contract last week is a start. However, the metamorphosis of a guaranteed two-year deal into a conditional one-year arrangement underscores the "red flag" discovered during a team medical: a damaged labrum.

Miller insists he pitched pain-free for the Tampa Bay Rays last season. But with Tyler Johnson considered a wild card after shoulder surgery in May and Randy Flores a candidate to be non-tendered, the Cardinals still need additional depth on the left side.

Free agent Joe Beimel offers a fit, but club sources indicate a preference to trade for help. The Cardinals have an offer outstanding to Arthur Rhodes, who has told associates he would prefer to pitch in St. Louis but is believed leaning toward the Cincinnati Reds' improved bid.

The Cardinals already retained veteran catcher Jason La Rue to back up Yadier Molina. Kyle Lohse signed a four-year, $41 million contract the day after the team concluded its 86-76, fourth-place finish.

A glut of outfielders and righthanded relievers offers Mozeliak a degree of leverage. No longer negotiating for Padres ace Jake Peavy, the Braves are dangling second baseman Kelly Johnson for outfielder Ryan Ludwick. Intrigued by the possibility of dealing Ludwick for gifted shortstop Yunel Escobar, the Cardinals are less likely to move a Silver Slugger outfielder for a serviceable second baseman.

Rather than trade for a second baseman, Mozeliak may try to arrange d?tente between La Russa and Kennedy, who is owed $4 million in the final installment of a three-year contract.

The Cardinals almost certainly would have to assume a portion of Kennedy's contract to trade him. Combined with a new second baseman's salary, the position cost would far exceed what the team has historically slotted.

Replacing free agent Cesar Izturis with Greene represents enough of an offensive upgrade that attention can now be turned to pitching, Mozeliak believes.

Fourth in their league in runs, the Cardinals reversed a four-year slide last season by scoring 54 more runs than in 2007, two fewer than in 2006 and 26 fewer than the 2005 100-win team.

While last year's team allowed 104 fewer runs than in 2007, it permitted 91 more runs with a 4.48 ERA, almost a point higher than the 2005 staff that led the major leagues in team ERA (3.49).

Outfielder Skip Schumaker could become part of a package for pitching help as Mozeliak is adamant that top prospect Colby Rasmus will receive every chance to make April's opening-day roster.

With righthanded reliever Josh Kinney expected to factor into 2009 after missing two seasons because of ligament replacement and a forearm fracture, Brad Thompson could also be had.

The Toronto Blue Jays are one team that enjoys an abundance of lefthanded relief. Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson and Brian Tallet made a total of 186 appearances last season, with Downs (1.15) and Carlson (1.03) allowing fewer than 1.2 baserunners per inning. The Blue Jays also have a lefthanded closer, B.J. Ryan.

Mozeliak and Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi have a history after conspiring last January on a swap of third basemen Scott Rolen and Troy Glaus.

The Cardinals have paid lip service to bringing back free-agent closer Jason Isringhausen to serve as a bridge until either Chris Perez or Jason Motte is ready to assume the role. It's more likely that Mozeliak will first plumb the market to gauge the availability of the Seattle Mariners' J.J. Putz or the Colorado Rockies' Huston Street. Signed for $5 million next season, Putz has a contract that includes an $8.6 million team option for 2010 with an accompanying $1 million buyout. Street is arbitration-eligible after making $3.3 million last season with the Oakland A's.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: December 8, 2008

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