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Report: Cards reach agreement with Choate

The Cardinals’ search for left-handed relief help has brought them to Randy Choate, who, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, reached terms on an agreement with St. Louis on Wednesday. The club has not yet announced the signing, but when they do, it will mark the first dip for the organization into the free-agent pool this offseason.

It has been no secret that St. Louis has been looking to add a second southpaw to join Marc Rzepczynski in the bullpen. The market was thin in that area, forcing the Cardinals to carefully consider how much of a financial commitment the club wanted to make to a lefty reliever. Sean Burnett, considered the top remaining free-agent lefty reliever, was going to command a strong multi-year commitment.

The length and terms of Choate’s agreement with the Cardinals was not immediately known.

Choate, 37, made 80 appearances in 2012, which he split between the Marlins and Dodgers. Choate posted a 3.03 ERA in 38 2/3 innings and was used primarily as a lefty specialist. He held left-handed batters to a .158 batting average. Right-handed hitters batted .325 against him. The Cardinals will use Choate in that same specialist role.

– Jenifer Langosch

Rhodes trying to make a comeback

Arthur Rhodes, the 43-year-old left-hander who won a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2011, has told folks close to him that he has not given up hope of pitching in the Majors again. He is seeking to latch on — it would be via a Minor League deal — with a club this offseason in order to have a chance to win a roster spot out of Spring Training.

Rhodes’ last appearance came during the ’11 World Series. He was not signed last winter despite drawing some interest and therefore didn’t pitch in 2012. Now, he is making one more go at a chance to return to the mound.

Rhodes likely won’t know until late in the offseason whether or not a club has interest in giving him a chance.  That’s because Rhodes, a 20-year veteran, won’t be pursued until the rest of the left-handed relief market has been picked through.

– Jenifer Langosch

Mozeliak: Cardinals comfortable without adding a starter

It wasn’t but a few weeks ago that Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak prioritized starting pitching as he looked for potential impact acquisitions to be made before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Now, that need is no longer so clearly at the top of his list.

While Mozeliak continues to scour the market for ways to improve his club, he does not do so feeling as if there is a necessity to add an outside piece into the rotation. Recent results, as well as the impending return of starter Jaime Garcia, dictate such a stance.

“Our starters have been great,” Mozeliak said on Saturday. “I think clearly it takes a little pressure off in terms of feeling like we have to do something. If you were to go after a starter, who are you really bouncing out? And how are you improving? That’s why I don’t think the urgency is quite there for rotational help as maybe it was, say, three or four weeks ago.”

Since the start of July, the Cardinals’ rotation has been strong. Starters have gone at least six innings in all 15 games, and the group has allowed more than two earned runs in a game only three times. Their cumulative July ERA is 2.49. Hitters have batted .241 against the rotation of five.

While Mozeliak would not specifically address rumors of the club’s interest in acquiring Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, Mozeliak did note that he would be hesitant to give up an elite-type prospect to a team within the division. At the moment, Chicago is asking for such in return for Dempster or fellow starter Matt Garza.

So could the Cardinals make additions elsewhere?

It’s unlikely much will be done to boost the offense, which currently leads the NL in batting average and runs scored. Offensive production at second base hasn’t been terrific, but the Cardinals also don’t want to acquire a player who would block middle infield prospect Kolten Wong from joining the big-league team, perhaps as early as 2013.

But given the greater saturation of relievers available on the market, and the Cardinals’ need to stabilize the bullpen, adding a reliever could end up being the easiest and most impactful route to go.

– Jenifer Langosch

Cards ink Fuentes to Minors deal

The Cardinals signed free agent Brian Fuentes to a Minor League deal on Saturday, thereby giving the organization another left-handed reliever to consider for the club’s unstable bullpen.

Fuentes will not join the big league immediately, but instead will report to the team’s Gulf Coast League affiliate on Sunday to begin a predetermined seven-day Minor League program. That will give Fuentes, 36, time to shake off some rust (he hasn’t pitched since June 30), as well as time to work on a few mechanical adjustments.

“He wants to get himself right,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. “I think he’s approaching it with the right attitude. Even if he can get himself partially back to where he can help add depth – not only from the left side but also to be able to get right-handers out – that would be important.”

The Cardinals could extend Fuentes’ Minor League stay through the end of the month, if they think that’s best. Fuentes has a July 31 out clause built into his contract that would allow him to ask for his release if he has not been called up to the Majors by the end of the month.

Fuentes was released by the A’s earlier this month. He had other offers to consider but ultimately weighed the chance to pitch for a contender most heavily. The four-time All-Star last pitched in the postseason with Minnesota in 2010.

– Jenifer Langosch

Cardinals targeting Fuentes, relief market

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak confirmed that the organization has reached out to the Beverly Hills Sports Council to express interest in signing their client, recently-released lefty reliever Brian Fuentes. Fuentes was designated for assignment and then released by the A’s earlier this month after a disappointing season start. In 12 appearances with Oakland, Fuentes allowed 30 hits and 19 earned runs in 25 innings.

The Cardinals, however, have been searching for left-handed relief help since releasing J.C. Romero in May. Right now, rookie Barret Browning is serving as the club’s second lefty, behind Marc Rzepczynski.

Fuentes is believed to be mulling various offers, leaving the Cardinals to wait for that decision. Fuentes, 36, is just three seasons removed from his fourth All-Star appearance and is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.70 ERA in 67 games.

Signing Fuentes would not come at a substantial risk for St. Louis. Because Fuentes was released, and not traded, it’s the A’s who are on the hook for paying the rest of the $6.5 million Fuentes is due from his 2012 contract. A team could sign him now for as little as the pro-rated minimum Major League salary.

The Cardinals’ search for bullpen upgrades won’t end with Fuentes, even if he signs.

“I would say that our interest in right-handed relief is high,” Mozeliak added. “Basically, when you look at our bullpen, we’re happy in the eighth and ninth. We just have to get from the starter to there. If you look at the landscape of the trading market right now, getting a reliever might be easier than getting a starter.”

– Jenifer Langosch

Cardinals seek out starting pitching

Tuesday’s announcement that Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter will miss the entire 2012 season due to surgery not only brought resolution to the right-hander’s situation, it provides clarity for the club.

With the non-waiver Trade Deadline sitting just four weeks away, general manager John Mozeliak now knows with certainty that the club cannot count on a lift from Carpenter in the second half. That propels starting pitching up to the top of the organization’s list of immediate needs.

The Cardinals, who trail the Reds by 2.5 games in the National League Central, aren’t desperate for a starter. The club anticipates plugging Jaime Garcia back into the rotation in August, but it also has innings-count concerns to consider.

Both Adam Wainwright – who didn’t pitch in 2011 – and Lance Lynn – who threw 120 2/3 innings last year – are having their workloads closely monitored. In the case of Lynn, the Cardinals would prefer to eventually move him into the bullpen during the second half. Doing so would achieve two objectives.

It would keep Lynn from possibly breaking down from throwing too many innings. It would also fortify a bullpen that has been a weak point for this club for much of the season. The ability to move Lynn to the bullpen could hinge on the Cardinals’ ability to acquire another starter.

The Cardinals’ pursuit of a starter will lead them to look at all options, including pitchers who are only under contract through the end of the year. Acquiring a pitcher who could stay in St. Louis beyond the 2012 season could be ideal, but it would cost the Cardinals a greater load in a midseason trade.

– Jenifer Langosch

The Cardinals begin their defense

Because they drew the assignment of facing the Marlins on the night Miami christened its new ballpark, the defending World Champion Cardinals managed not to dominate the storylines on Opening Day. Still, there are storylines aplenty as St. Louis attempts to become just the third team since 1979 to repeat as World Champs.

Mike Matheny makes his managerial debut on Wednesday as the new-look Cardinals play on without Tony La Russa, Albert Pujols and Dave Duncan. The Cardinals will also go down as the first team to face the Marlins in the team’s new stadium, and the novelty of the ballpark caught the attention of everyone upon first glance.

“It’s bright. It’s unique, too,” Matheny said. “I think that’s something that you look at with the new parks. It seems like you go through phases where everything kind of looks the same. But they’ve got their own unique flavor to this one.”

Said Jon Jay, a Miami native: “We always hoped for something like this. Now the Miami community will have a real baseball stadium. You’ll get that feeling of a baseball park that we get going across the country. I think it’s nice for the community and the kids and everyone that is a part of Miami.”

Though there was plenty of oohing and ahhing over the unique new park during Tuesday’s workout, that wasn’t so much the case today. For those in red, this is game No. 1 of 162. That’s it. Asked if there would be a different feel to the night given all the pregame ceremonies and build up in Miami, starter Kyle Lohse might have put it best: “It’s another game. Pitching in the World Series last year, that’s different.”

The Cardinals’ Opening Day roster includes six players who have never been on a Major League Opening Day roster before. Those include Tony Cruz, Erik Komatsu, Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter, Fernando Salas and Shane Robinson. Komatsu is the only one of the bunch who did not make an appearance with the Cardinals at some point last year.

“You always want to be a part of Opening Day roster,” said Lynn, who will make his season debut in Milwaukee on Sunday. “I happen to have a World Series under my belt before I had one of these, which is kind of weird. But it’s very exciting for this first one.”

Bucs to sign Slaten to Minor League deal

Though terms of the agreement have not all been finalized, left-hander Doug Slaten has chosen to sign a Minor League deal with the Pirates, a source confirmed on Wednesday. The addition of Slaten will give the club another reliever to consider for its bullpen.

Slaten became a free agent in December, when the Nationals decided not to tender a contract to the arbitration-eligible pitcher. His contract with the Pirates will include an invitation to participate in Spring Training.

Slaten, 31, spent close to three months on the disabled list in 2011 due to a left elbow injury. As a result, he made just 31 appearances and logged only 16 1/3 innings. His season ERA finished at 4.41. Slaten struck out 16 and walked three.

Now healthy, Slaten had multiple offers this winter before ultimately deciding that the Pirates provided him with the best fit and opportunity. Though the Pirates haven’t prioritized including a left-handed specialist in the ‘pen in several years, Slaten profiles as an option for that type of role.

– Jenifer Langosch

Pirates sign Jo-Jo Reyes

Lefty Jo-Jo Reyes has agreed to a Minor League deal with the Pirates, a source confirmed to MLB.com. Terms of the deal were not immediately known, though Reyes is expected to participate in the Pirates’ big-league camp this spring.

Reyes, 27, became a free agent last month when the Orioles opted not to tender a contract to the left-hander, who was arbitration eligible for the first time in his career.

In 2011, Reyes made 20 starts for the Blue Jays before being designated for assignment in late July. He was subsequently picked up off waivers by Baltimore, which used Reyes in nine games (five as a starter) over the season’s final two months. Reyes combined to finish with a 7-11 record and 5.57 ERA.

A former second-round pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Reyes has made 70 career appearances (62 starts) in parts of five seasons in the Majors. He spent the first nine years of his professional career in the Braves organization.

– Jenifer Langosch

Grilli, Bucs agree to terms on one-year contract

Jason Grilli will be back in the Pirates’ bullpen next season, having secured his spot on the club by agreeing to terms on a one-year deal with Pittsburgh. According to mlbtraderumors.com, the contract will pay Grilli $1.1 million in 2012.

After beginning the 2011 season in the Phillies’ Minor League system, Grilli was granted his release on July 19 so that he could sign with Pittsburgh two days later. He went on to make 28 appearances and post a 2.48 ERA with the Pirates. Grilli, 35, struck out 37 and walked 15 in those 32 2/3 innings.

The right-hander quickly worked his way into a set-up role and was scored upon just twice in his final 19 appearances.

– Jenifer Langosch

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