Cardinals looking for bench help at winter meetings

News-DemocratDecember 8, 2013 

— With most of their offseason work already completed, the St. Louis Cardinals aren't expected to be major players at the winter meetings this week at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Instead, General Manager John Mozeliak again will be on the lookout for one or two bench players, although he has said in the past that he always is willing to engage other possibilities.

In other words, if teams want to inquire about Cardinals players, Mozeliak will listen. But the likelihood of the Cardinals pulling off a major trade does not seem to be high. They have no intentions of moving young pitching like Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez or Michael Wacha.

Last December, the Cardinals signed 35-year-old infielder Ty Wigginton to a two-year, $5 million contract, hoping the veteran's power and presence would lend a hand.

Wigginton, however, flopped. He batted .158 (9-for-57) with no home runs and three RBIs in 47 games, striking out 19 times. He was given his unconditional release in July.

Like last offseason, Mozeliak said the Cardinals hope to add a power source to the bench.

"It's certainly something we're open to," Mozeliak said recently. "Not the Wigginton type, but the right-handed pop."

That player preferably would be a complement to rookie Kolten Wong at second base, with an ability to play third and perhaps shortstop.

Veteran Mark Ellis is one possibility, although he doesn't have the power Mozeliak discussed.

Ellis, who is a free agent after playing with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, is 36 and batted .270 with six homers and 48 RBIs in 126 games last year.

Free agents like Jeff Baker, Ryan Roberts, Jerry Hairston Jr., Jayson Nix, Chris Getz and even former All-Star Michael Young could be appealing to the Cardinals on a short-term basis.

Roberts, 33, batted .305 (25-for-82) with four homers in 82 at-bats against left-handed pitching last season for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Baker, 32, had 11 homers last season for the Texas Rangers, with 10 of them coming against left-handers, against whom he batted .314 (33-for-105). Baker has batted .298 in his career against lefties.

Hairston is 37 and is coming off a poor season with the Dodgers, for whom he batted just .211. Nix is 31 and batted .236 for the New York Yankees last season, including .266 against left-handers. Getz, 30, batted .220 with Kansas City.

Young, 37, batted .279 with eight homers and 46 RBIs in 147 games with Philadelphia and the Dodgers, but he is a poor defender who might be looking for more money than the Cardinals are willing to commit to a reserve.

But even allowing for raises that arbitration-eligible players Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso will receive, the Cardinals have money to spend since pricier players like Carlos Beltran, Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook and Rafael Furcal are coming off the books.

If rookie Oscar Taveras makes Opening Day roster, Mozeliak points out that the Cardinals' bench already will be improved even if they don't add to it --this week or later in the winter.

The Cardinals added Bourjos, a center fielder, and minor-league outfielder Randal Grichuk on Nov. 22 in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels for third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas.

Bourjos will be the everyday center fielder, so if Taveras is on the roster, he likely will play right field. That would push Allen Craig to first base and once again send Matt Adams to a reserve role. Adams batted .284 with 17 home runs in 296 at-bats last season.

"At the very least, you sort of look at this club now and it can change the complexion of the bench, with more power off of it depending on who's playing on that given night," Mozeliak said.

But Taveras, one of the top prospects in the game, isn't a slam dunk to make the team. He was injured much of last season and while the Cardinals believe he is ready, another year of Triple-A would not hurt the left-handed hitter.

The Cardinals' other offseason need was acquiring a shortstop, which they did two weeks ago when they signed free agent Jhonny Peralta, 31, to a four-year, $53 million contract.

Peralta's deal is front-loaded; he will receive $15.5 million in 2014, $15 million in 2015, $12.5 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017.

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665.

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