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Winter Meetings: Lefty Choate agrees to 3-year deal with Cards

2012-12-05T16:00:00Z 2012-12-05T18:36:03Z Winter Meetings: Lefty Choate agrees to 3-year deal with CardsBy Derrick Goold dgoold@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8285 stltoday.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. • The Cardinals have an agreement in place with lefty reliever Randy Choate, a veteran specialist that fits the profile of the addition the Cardinals came to Nashville seeking.

A three-year, $7.5 million contract will be finalized as soon as Friday when Choate visits St. Louis for a physical.

This is not the first time that Choate has draw attention from the Cardinals. In previous seasons, the Cardinals tried to trade for the lefty specialist, who was last with the LA Dodgers. He split last season with the Dodgers and Miami Marlins.

Choate led the league with 80 appearances in 2012.

The initial agreement was first reported by Jayson Stark of ESPN.com and then confirmed by the Post-Dispatch.

Get the latest from the Winter Meetings on our free PD Baseball app for iPadiPhone or Android.

Choate struck out 30 of the 116 lefthanded batters he faced in 2012, and he held lefthanded batters to a .158 average with a .218 slugging percentage. He'll join Marc Rzepczynski as the two lefties in the Cardinals' bullpen.

More to come on this throughout the evening here at C-Beat.

***

Cards out of mix for Sean Burnett

The Cardinals' pursuit of a lefty reliever has peeled away from the pitcher considered the best of the remaining available free agents in his class.

The Cardinals are not in play for Sean Burnett, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Burnett, who was last with the Washington Nationals, is the top late-inning lefty remaining on the market, and with the way teams are spending this week he could be in line for the three-year deal other relievers like Jeremy Affeldt and Brandon League have received. The Cardinals were one of about eight teams that stepped beyond inquiries for the lefty. They are no longer in the mix.

The market was explored earlier today. You can see that entry below this additional note ...

Jeff Murphy, the former bullpen catcher for the Cardinals, has been hired by the Houston Astros as a major-league catching instructor. The job also includes working as a roving instructor in the Astros' minor-league system. Murphy was the longtime bullpen catcher on Tony La Russa's staff. He was not with the team in 2012, though he continued live in the St. Louis area.

Lefty market set to loosen up?

Having been able to focus on finding the desired lefty reliever in the free agent market over the past couple days, the Cardinals believe that market could accelerate before the end of the Winter Meetings here on Thursday.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said he spent most of Tuesday talking with agents instead of other teams.

The Cardinals have not hid their hopes of adding a second lefty to the bullpen, and they have discussed most of the free agents out there and reached out to many of them to convey interest or gauge demand. Manny Parra, who was recently non-tendered by the Milwaukee Brewers, has been presented to teams as a reliever. The Cardinals have inquired about the lefty, according to a source with knowledge of the contact.

Sean Burnett's agent said earlier this week that he expected the negotiations for his client to gain speed this week. The Cardinals have explored what it would it take to sign Burnett, who is the top lefty available in the market.

There are others who could be had for shorter term deals. J. P. Howell, Randy Choate, and Mike Gonzalez are seasoned lefties still in the market place.

"Ideally it’s a complement with (Marc Rzepczynski)," Mozeliak said Tuesday when discussing in general terms the kind of lefty they're targeting. "The key part is getting lefthanded hitters out. ... I think we could be (looking at a traditional lefty specialist). You could see Rzep being dominant. We could do that. We’re really open to anything. We just feel we need a second lefty in that 'pen to take the pressure off of Rzep and to give the skipper a little more flexibility."

The Cardinals have at least exchanged enough information with the agents for the available lefties to feel talks are coming to a resolution in the near future.

To help better understand that market the Cardinals are wading into, here are the stats vs. lefthanded hitters for several free-agent relievers, some of whom have caught the Cardinals' eye (not listed in any specific order):

Randy Choate -- 30 Ks, 9 BB in 116 PAs vs. LHB

.158/.243/.218

Sean Burnett -- 28 Ks, 1 BB in 95 PAs vs. LHB

.211/.245/.289

Manny Parra -- 33 Ks, 12 BB in 124 PAs vs. LHB

.229/.323/.312

J. P. Howell -- 20 Ks, 13 BB in 99 PAs vs. LHB

.200/.306/.306

Mike Gonzalez -- 23 Ks, 7 BB in 75 PAs vs. LHB

.179/.257/.269

Will Ohman -- 8 Ks, 3 BB in 64 PAs vs. LHB

.186/.250/.305

Tom Gorzelanny -- 20 Ks, 8 BB in 129 PAs vs. LHB

.237/.289/.398

For fun, here's another lefty to look at:

Wesley Wright -- 39 Ks, 9 BB in 133 PAs vs. LHB

.198/.265/.273

Wright isn't a free agent. He's an Astro. Houston is widely known to be shopping its players as a way to restock a depleted farm system and curtail costs. They are a few years away from contending, and players who don't fit their model until they contend are available it seems. That would include Jed Lowrie, though this may not be a sell-high moment for the infielder. He played in 97 games last season because of injury.

I mention Wright more as an example, a metaphor ... because while the stance last night was the lefty looked to be coming from the free-agent market, a trade is always one phone call away.

Some other doings as Day 3 starts:

• The media work room is being set up now for the New York Mets press conference to formally introduce David Wright and his franchise-record extension. Wright will be in attendance.

• Last evening, ESPN discussed a four-team trade that involved the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians and two others that would involve Justin Upton and Asdrubal Cabrera. Tampa Bay's James Shields  has also been mentioned in the trade, according to Fox Sports. Though the big names — Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke — remain unsigned, such a deal would cap a rather active Winter Meetings.

• The Cardinals have explored trades for their middle infield need, including Cabrera, which we have discussed earlier in the paper and here in the blog. One thing that the trade market offers that the free agent market does not is authority. A shortstop who arrives via trade can be told he'll play second base next year.

Free agents want promises. Free agents want guaranteed playing time. Free agents — especially those who want to set themselves up for their next deal — want to know they'll be used at a position that gives them the best chance to take advantage of that next market.

"That’s where that trade market is more beneficial because you don’t have to promise anything," Mozeliak said. Having two players who expect to play shortstop regularly "could complicate things this year too. Next year is next year. We could be sitting here next year having a similar conversation about finding a shortstop."

That's an important takeaway from these meetings and the talks involving middle infielders.

While they keep tabs on this market and even engage in discussions, there is the likelihood they are also getting ready for pursuit of a shortstop or second baseman later this winter, during the 2013 season (think: trade deadline), or next winter when the need is more urgent.

• Fox Sports Midwest has been filming some behind-the-scenes moments with Mozeliak and his staff for a program that will air around Christmas. The cameras have been planted in our media meetings with Mozeliak. I've had to remember to iron my shirts.

• By the time you arrive here, I'll be over here for a chat on STLtoday.com that started at 10 a.m. You're welcome to join me right now.

Bring questions.

That's the only cover charge.

Derrick Goold covers the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for The Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @dgoold or on Facebook at Facebook.com/BirdLandPD

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Baseball writers Derrick Goold and Rick Hummel cover the Cardinals for the Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com. They'll provide daily Cardinals updates here, from the start of spring training through the end of the season and beyond.

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