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Cardinals achieve top objective at Winter Meetings

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In a Winter Meetings week where free agency's biggest chips didn't fall and several clubs committed significant dollars to players falling in the middle tier, the Cardinals stayed removed from the headlines and maintained a narrow focus.

The team's primary objective upon arriving in Nashville was to find left-handed help for the bullpen. Club officials departed on Thursday having achieved that by securing the services of Randy Choate, who will officially be added to the roster on Friday after passing a physical in St. Louis.

"As a group, we talk about remaining disciplined and staying true to our process," general manager John Mozeliak said. "In this environment, some irrational thinking happens. That's the problem of these Meetings -- sometimes it's because you get the ping-pong effect. There are 30 teams under one roof, and things escalate rather quickly."

The Cardinals' early read on the free-agent market was that the available lefty relievers would be snatched up fairly quickly. Knowing there would be competition in the thin market, the Cardinals were willing to offer Choate a three-year deal.

St. Louis also laid the groundwork for possible upcoming offseason transactions. The team still intends to improve its bench by adding a veteran right-handed bat, though it may take several more weeks for the club to find the right fit. There's also a strong chance a middle infielder will be added before Spring Training opens in February.

The team will continue to take offers for outfielder/second baseman Skip Schumaker, who has talked to the club about desiring the opportunity to receive regular playing time. With the composition of the Cardinals' current roster, it doesn't look like the opportunity will exist in St. Louis.

"What we're trying to do is really just try to optimize the type of return we might get for him," Mozeliak said of Schumaker. "If we can get Major League talent, we'll definitely consider that. If we can't find that, we will look for someone who can fit into our Minor League system."

Here's a recap of the organization's activity in Nashville:

Deals done: The Cardinals reached a three-year, $7.5 million agreement with Choate on Wednesday and intend to make the signing official on Friday. The Cardinals already have an opening on their 40-man roster, so it will not be necessary to make a corresponding move in order to make the deal official.

St. Louis has also signed a pair of players -- corner infielder/outfielder Jamie Romak and outfielder Justin Christian -- to Minor League deals. Christian's agreement includes an invite to participate in Major League camp next spring. Romak, who spent more than half of the 2012 season with the Cardinals' Double-A affiliate, will compete for a Triple-A job. Christian has a strong chance to be a part of the Cardinals' Triple-A starting outfield next season.

Rule 5 Draft activity: As expected, St. Louis did not make a selection in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft. The club also did not lose any of its unprotected players in that round.

In the Triple-A portion of the Draft, the Cards plucked third baseman Matthew Cerda from the Cubs and left-handed pitcher Jay Voss from the Tigers' organization. The club also lost catcher/first baseman Steven Hill to Oakland in that phase of the Draft. Hill, who appeared in nine games for the Cardinals in 2012, was taken off the team's 40-man roster last month.

Cerda played 111 games in 2012, the majority of those with Chicago's Double-A affiliate. He hit .241 and posted an on-base percentage of .374. Cerda, a fourth-round selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, will compete with Jermaine Curtis for the organization's Triple-A starting job at third base.

"He's a good on-base-percentage guy, hits for average and is solid defensively," said farm director John Vuch, who also noted that he was atop the team's wish list in that portion of the Draft.

After a breakout season in 2011, Voss underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2012. The Cardinals have read encouraging reports about Voss' rehab and expect that he'll be ready to pitch shortly after the start of the season. Voss, a 25-year-old left-hander, will initially pitch out of the bullpen, though the Cardinals haven't ruled out the possibility of eventually moving him into a starting role.

"Both of these guys have some upside that if it pans out, they could have a future," Vuch said. "Right now we'll see them in the Minor Leagues."

Goals accomplished: In landing Choate, the Cards secured a lefty specialist for the bullpen. The club arrived at the Winter Meetings having set this as the primary goal, knowing that the market for lefty relievers was likely to dry up fast. Choate will join Marc Rzepczynski as a second lefty in the 'pen and will give the Cards the traditional left-on-left specialist the team lacked in 2012.

Unfinished business: The club's attention now turns to building its bench, which still could see the addition of a middle infielder and right-handed-hitting veteran this winter. Players fitting both of those roles remain on the team's radar. The Cardinals may, however, wait a while before addressing their bench needs; by doing so, the club can wait for free agents who are currently seeking starting jobs to lower expectations as Spring Training nears.

The team is also still gauging outside interest in Schumaker, who appears likely to be dealt before the start of Spring Training.

Team's bottom line: "While we feel good about how the last few days went, there's still some work to be done. Honestly, we felt like we laid the groundwork to reach some of the things we need to. As we look to the next few weeks until Christmas, I certainly feel like we have a good picture of what's going on in the landscape." -- Mozeliak

St. Louis Cardinals, Randy Choate, Skip Schumaker