The winter meetings were going rather quiet for the St. Louis Cardinals. Until today, that is. The Cardinals have agreed to terms on a $7.5 million, 3 year deal with 37-year-old veteran left hander Randy Choate pending a physical. The deal solidifies the bullpen from the left side as he will pair with 27-year-old Marc Rzepczynski.
Entering the offseason the Cardinals hadn’t spent good money on a left handed reliever in a few years, and it has shown. It was one of the primary issues that the organization needed to address in the offseason, if not the primary one (though I labelled it key #2 in a previous post). I had the feeling entering the offseason that John Mozeliak was as tired as I was at dumpster diving for a fringe left handed reliever and hoping you could work magic and squeeze a year or two of performance out of him. It was time to get a reliable arm.
Choate is not the player I was hoping the Cardinals would add, and after Sean Burnett went to the Angels on an $8 million, 2 year deal when I thought he’d get $12 million over 2 years, I’m even a little more frustrated. Burnett is one of those lefties that can pitch both ways. And yes, while we have our seventh, eighth, and ninth innings locked up, if an opposing manager tries to play matchups late in the game, Burnett is the kind of pitcher you can leave in there so you don’t burn through your bullpen in a single inning. However, if you are looking for a straight up Lefty-One-Out-GuY (or LOOGY), Choate was one of the best on the market this offseason.
Choate, 37, held left handed batters to a .158 batting average and a .243 on base percentage. He faced more than twice as many left handed batters as right handed ones and threw 39 innings despite 80 appearances (which led the league). By all definition, he has been a LOOGY. He was just coming off a two year deal he signed with the Miami Marlins, but was part of the Hanley Ramirez trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers where he struggled to wrap up the season after a good start.
The addition of Choate is a good one for the Cardinals. It allows them to have a tried and tested veteran who has been fairly consistent in his career with lefties having hit just .201 against him. That means they can put the pressure on Rzepczynski to improve and begin looking at their up and coming left handed pitching prospects like John Gast (who may still stick as a starter). It also means that Mozeliak shouldn’t have to worry about his lefty reliever situation for a couple more years.
With the move, the Cardinals are likely done in Nashville unless someone makes them an offer they can’t refuse. They still need to solidify their bench, preferably at shortstop and center field. There is talk about Scott Hairston drawing interest, which would certainly provide a good right handed utility option off the bench. Most of your free agent shortstops that are worth having are still looking for starting jobs but you may see the Cardinals end up winning a game of musical chairs with one of them later in the offseason.
Mozeliak did indicate that the team is unlikely to select a player in tomorrow morning’s Rule 5 Draft. The Cardinals’ 40-man roster currently sits at 39 men awaiting the addition of Choate, so if they did, they would need to make a corresponding move to free up a spot on the 40 man roster when Choate’s deal is finalized.