General manager John Mozeliak and the team's baseball operations department descended upon the Music City late Sunday night with their priorities clearly outlined. The team still seeks a left-handed reliever and expects to know before everyone scatters on Thursday whether the free-agent market is going to be the best place to address that need.
Improving the club's middle-infield depth and finding a veteran right-handed hitter remains objectives, as well.
In speaking to reporters from his suite late Monday afternoon, Mozeliak said that he believes "this week will help bring some conclusions" in terms of the left-handed relief market.
Sean Burnett remains the most attractive available lefty reliever, though a hesitancy to commit too heavily to him in terms of dollars and years could preclude the Cardinals from making a serious run. Asked about the possibility of handing out a multi-year deal to a reliever, Mozeliak said it's still too early to determine if the Cards will move in such a direction.
The ascension of young lefties Sam Freeman and Kevin Siegrist might not make such a long-term commitment necessary.
Free-agent relievers, in general, have done well already this offseason. Jeremy Affeldt and Jonathan Broxton are among those who positioned themselves to receive lucrative, multi-year deals. Even Joakim Soria, who missed all of the 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, is reportedly close to finalizing a two-year deal with the Rangers.
The Cardinals understand how all of these multi-year contracts have had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the market.
"Clearly, the market is moving a little bit, and how you adjust is obviously critical if you're going to get deals done," Mozeliak said. "We're aware of it. We recognize it. I think as the next few days unfold, we'll see if we can be players in it."
The shortage of free-agent lefty relievers has prompted the Cards to look at trade options. The club will not, however, pay too steep price (i.e. give up one of its top young pitchers) in order to secure one.
As the Cardinals work to construct their bench, they do so with an eye on another middle infielder and a veteran bat, preferably a right-handed one.
"We do think that would be a good complement for our club," Mozeliak said of adding a right-handed hitter. "Clearly our bench last year was young, so if we could find that veteran presence to hit from the right side, I do think it would make sense for us."
Mozeliak was asked if there was a preference on what position such a bench player would fill.
"Obviously, the more positions a player can play, the more flexibility he gives to the manager," he responded. "That's desirable. But I think the more critical part is the late-inning bat off the bench."
Mozeliak took questions on several other topics Monday, including the following:
He downplayed any expectation that he would meet with Steve Hammond, Adam Wainwright's agent, during the Winter Meetings to discuss a contract extension for the right-hander.
"This week," Mozeliak said, "I think is going to be more focused in additions to the roster than discussing anything in terms of contract extensions."
Wainwright's current contract runs only through 2013, and there seems to be mutual interest to get an extension finalized before the righty would become a free agent.
Asked if the organization's young pitching had been attracting interest from other clubs, Mozeliak laughed. "Quite a bit," he said. And while the Cardinals are not looking to deal from that particular position of strength, Mozeliak said the team would consider any offer if it's at a fair price.
"But," he added, "I just think the ask on some of this is not logical for us. Candidly, I like our depth with the pitching. I think it's a good place to be. If there was something that made sense for us that could address a need that we couldn't address through what we're currently exploring, then that's different."
While utiltyman Skip Schumaker has not formally requested a trade from the Cardinals, Schumaker's agent, Nez Balelo, has spoken with Mozeliak about "looking for perhaps a better place to get more opportunity." Schumaker is set to earn $1.5 million next year.
If he stays, Schumaker would provide a versatile bat off the bench. The Cardinals do not, however, plan to consider using Schumaker as an everyday second baseman. Schumaker's playing time diminished substantially during the second half of the 2012 season, after the club increased Daniel Descalso's exposure at second base.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.