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Cardinals sign Rzepczynski to one-year contract

ST. LOUIS -- David Freese now sits as the Cardinals' only unsigned arbitration-eligible player following Friday's announcement that the organization has reached an agreement with left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski.

The Cardinals were facing the prospect of having to attend two arbitration hearings this month but eliminated one with Friday's agreement. The Cardinals did not release the financial terms of the one-year deal, but it likely falls around the midpoint of the desired salary figures filed by Rzepczynski and the club last month.

A year after making $504,000, Rzepczynski has asked for his salary to be bumped to $1.3 million. The Cardinals countered by submitting a figure of $900,000.

Rzepczynski's 2012 season totals never were able to recover from a tumultuous seven-week period that began in mid-May, but he was the only left-handed pitcher to remain in the Cardinals' bullpen from Opening Day until the close of the regular season. He finished with an ERA of 4.24.

Now that Randy Choate has been added to the Cardinals' roster, Rzepczynski should be freed up to pitch more in a middle-inning relief role.

"I think my stuff is good enough, and I hope [manager] Mike [Matheny] thinks it is, too, that I can pitch against anybody," Rzepczynski said. "Having that sort of [starter's] background, I know I want to go out there and pitch as much as I can. This will give me an opportunity to pitch an inning, and Randy will take care of the one-out situations."

If the Cardinals are unable to find similar middle ground with Freese on a 2013 salary, an arbitration hearing will be scheduled. Those hearings begin on Monday and will run through Feb. 20. It has been 14 years since the Cardinals last advanced to an arbitration hearing.

Freese is among a group of 15 arbitration-eligible Major Leaguers who, as of Friday, had not yet agreed on a season salary. Freese is going through the arbitration process for the first time, having become arbitration-eligible by accruing three years of Major League service time.

When clubs and unsigned arbitration-eligible players exchanged figures in January, Freese submitted a number of $3.75 million. The Cardinals filed at $2.4 million. Freese earned $508,000 in 2012.

Oftentimes players and clubs settle -- typically around the midpoint of the two figures -- before a hearing is necessary. But if no agreement is reached, an arbitration panel will convene to hear arguments from both parties before choosing one of the two submitted salary figures.

The last time the Cardinals needed an arbitration hearing to settle a salary dispute was in 1999, when the club won its case against left-hander Darren Oliver. Last year, a total of seven arbitration hearings were needed across baseball. In five of those cases, the arbitration panel ruled in favor of the team.

Regardless of what salary Freese gets locked in at for 2013, it will be a substantial raise for the everyday third baseman. He played in a career-high 144 games last year and avoided landing on the disabled list in the process. Freese, a first-time All-Star in 2012, hit .293 and was one of five Cardinals players to hit 20 home runs. He finished with 79 RBIs.

"Last year was something where I wanted to play the whole year," Freese said during the organization's recent Winter Warm-Up event. "I liked where my numbers were last year. I'm not going to try to do too much, but if I were more consistent, I think my numbers will be that much better [this year]."

Freese was asked about the arbitration process during the same conversation but chose not to go into any details about the negotiations.

St. Louis Cardinals, David Freese, Marc Rzepczynski