ST. LOUIS -- Desiring the opportunity to play for a championship in a baseball-rich city, left-hander Randy Choate identified St. Louis as one of his preferred destinations shortly after declaring for free agency this fall.
A little more than a month later, and after being courted by a handful of teams, Choate, 37, arrived in St. Louis on Friday to finalize the longest and most lucrative contract of his career. After passing a physical, the Cardinals officially announced signing Choate to a three-year contract. He'll earn $7.5 million over the duration of the deal.
"I think any player is looking for a chance to get into the playoffs," said Choate, shortly before boarding a flight home. "You never know what contract is going to be your last. My role fit into their needs, and after watching them last year make the push [into the playoffs], they obviously have something special going on there that I'm excited to be a part of."
Choate's representatives heard from the Cardinals early during the free-agency period, and Choate said he anticipated that his decision would come during the Winter Meetings. He estimated that four to five teams reached out to him this winter; three -- the Cardinals, Dodgers and Reds -- made up his list of finalists.
In the end, he chose St. Louis, which offered him the chance to earn more over the next three seasons than he has in his previous 12 combined. According to the salary information on baseball-reference.com, Choate has made approximately $5.2 million in his career. He had never previously signed a contract for longer than two years in length.
Choate considers himself a late bloomer, having really tapped into his place as a lefty specialist nine seasons after he made his Major League debut with the Yankees. As a part of the Rays' bullpen in 2009, Choate thrived when used almost exclusively against left-handed hitters. The next season, he made a Major League-high 85 appearances. He led the Majors with 80 appearances in 2012 but logged only 38 2/3 innings because of his specialized role.
"I think it was more a learning process for me at an early age," Choate said. "I didn't really grasp everything until 2009, when [Tampa Bay manager] Joe Maddon put me in a role to be successful. Joe really knew how to best use me, and I have been able to build on it from there. It took quite a learning curve for me to get here."
Though Choate has been heavily used out of the bullpen in recent years, his low innings total reduces concern about wear and tear at his age. In fact, Choate says his goal each year is to throw 45 innings in 90 appearances.
"I know I'm going to come in and face one or two tough lefties," Choate said. "I understand my role. I don't think age really matters much. I have had some of my best years as I've gotten older, and I feel as good now as I did at 24."
Choate will join the Cardinals as a second left-handed reliever, and his presence will allow Marc Rzepczynski to be used in more of a middle-relief role. Choate will also be reunited with former 'pen-mate Edward Mujica. The two were teammates in Miami in 2011 and until the 2012 Trade Deadline, when both were dealt. Mujica landed in St. Louis, while Choate joined the Dodgers.
As it turned out, the Cardinals and Dodgers ended up in a two-team battle for the second Wild Card spot, with the Cardinals securing the berth on the second to last day of the season. After informing his family about his decision to sign with St. Louis earlier this week, one of Choate's next calls was to Mujica.
"I'm thrilled to be his teammate again," Choate said. "He's one of the favorite guys I have ever played with."
Choate has limited left-handed hitters to a .201 average and seven home runs over his career (476 games). Last season, left-handed batters hit just .158 off Choate, who allowed 14 of 66 inherited runners to score.
En route to St. Louis, Choate has played with the Yankees (2000-03), Diamondbacks (2004-07), Rays (2009-10), Marlins (2011-12) and Dodgers (2012).