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Cardinals agree to deal with lefty Choate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Expecting an already limited market for left-handed relievers to thin even further by the end of the Winter Meetings, general manager John Mozeliak made his move on Wednesday.

With their first dip into free-agent activity this offseason, the Cardinals reached an agreement with left-hander Randy Choate. The three-year, $7.5 million contract was finalized after the southpaw, 37, passed a physical on Friday in St. Louis.

St. Louis has few holes to fill on its roster before 2013, but finding a second southpaw to join Marc Rzepczynski in the bullpen was among the team's top priorities. The Cards were eyeing a specific sort of lefty, too, one who could fill a lefty-on-lefty specialist role.

Choate fit that bill better than any other available southpaw reliever, including Sean Burnett, who doesn't profile so much as a lefty specialist. Though the Cardinals did meet with agents representing other lefty relievers, Choate was the team's target from the start.

Choate will be 40 by the time this contract expires, but he also will not be putting the innings load on his arm that most relievers do over the course of the season. Choate made 80 appearances in 2012, which he split between the Marlins and Dodgers, but tossed only 38 2/3 innings because of how he was used.

Choate limited left-handers to a .158 batting average last year, and over the course of his 12-year career, left-handed hitters have batted .201 off him. By using Choate almost exclusively against left-handed hitters, the Cards will free up Rzepczynski to be a more flexible middle-innings option. Edward Mujica and Mitchell Boggs will remain in setup roles ahead of closer Jason Motte.

With the bullpen now settled, the Cardinals can turn their attention to the bench, which still needs to be pieced together. While St. Louis is unlikely to pull off a trade or sign another free agent before departing Nashville on Thursday, groundwork has been laid for future transactions.

Having vetted the available bench options, Mozeliak said it's more likely the organization will upgrade through signing additional free agents rather than making a trade, though the latter option hasn't been entirely dismissed. By waiting until deeper in the offseason, the Cardinals expect that players who are currently seeking starting opportunities will eventually reduce those demands.

St. Louis, which can't make such everyday promises to position players, can then jump into the mix when expectations change.

"I think the one thing you have to remember is there is going to be opportunity to still add to your club in January," Mozeliak said. "In no way do we feel we have to have our club set by the time we leave Nashville."

The Cardinals would like to add a veteran right-handed hitter and could boost the team's outfield depth with such an addition. The organization also remains interested in adding to its middle-infield options. As the Cards look to address their bench, they're also mindful of personality.

With the club having already lost the affable Lance Berkman and likely to trade popular clubhouse figure Skip Schumaker, the Cardinals will seek bench players who can also contribute in the clubhouse environment.

St. Louis Cardinals, Randy Choate