ST. LOUIS -- A year after arriving at the Winter Meetings under the glare of the national spotlight, the Cardinals will travel to Nashville, Tenn., for next week's Winter Meetings with a much more modest list of goals.
Gone is the urgency of negotiating with a superstar. In its place is the much more manageable task of finding complementary pieces for a ballclub that is retaining most of its 2012 core. In particular, that means finding left-handed relief help, boosting the bench and fortifying the middle infield.
"It's a far different landscape," general manager John Mozeliak said, "than a year ago."
The Cardinals' offseason activity thus far has been mostly administrative, tweaking the 40-man roster and officially parting ways with the club's only two free agents -- Lance Berkman and Kyle Lohse. Aside from signing Rob Johnson to a Minor League deal, the Cards have not been involved in any signings.
There is little indication, too, that any additional impact additions are on the horizon, even though Mozeliak confirmed that conversations are ongoing regarding several players. With many key offseason transaction dates falling earlier this year due to changes made in last year's Collective Bargaining Agreement, the chance for a flurry of Winter Meetings activity is increased.
Finding a second lefty reliever to join Marc Rzepczynski in the bullpen will not be easy given the available list of free agents. With Jeremy Affeldt already off the board, remaining left-handed options include Sean Burnett, Randy Choate, Michael Gonzalez, J.P. Howell, George Sherrill and Will Ohman. It's a mostly underwhelming group through which to sift.
The weakness of the market could force the Cardinals into looking elsewhere to fill such a hole.
"I think we knew going in that the lefty relief market wasn't a great place to be shopping, just in the sense that there's not a lot out there," Mozeliak said. "As we look at a lot of our options, it may come from a trade. [We are] still interested in finding one, though."
With the organization confident in Rafael Furcal's ongoing recovery from an elbow injury, the need to find another shortstop has diminished. As a result, the Cardinals can instead focus their efforts on finding an infielder who could play either middle-infield spot. This would increase the club's depth at both positions.
"That's still something that we're kicking around," Mozeliak said in regards to focusing attention in that area.
The Cardinals' bench can be fortified without having to spend significant dollars. Adding a right-handed hitter with some power would be ideal given the makeup of the club's current roster.
St. Louis has enough flexibility within its payroll to be able to add all such pieces, since no high-cost additions are needed. Though the club eliminated close to $24 million by letting go of Lohse and Berkman, it will take on a comparable amount of salary by accounting for raises due through other contract increases and the arbitration process.
In the end, the team's payroll will likely total somewhere near the $110 million figure.
The Cardinals could very well spend four days at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville next week without making any sort of splash. But with baseball executives and agents all under one roof for several days, there will certainly be discussions and potential groundwork laid.
The Winter Meetings will close on Dec. 6 with the Rule 5 Draft. In order to select a player in that Draft, the Cardinals will have to keep a spot open on their 40-man roster. Currently, the club has 39 players on its roster.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.