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Cards turn free-agent lens on hitters

Cards turn free-agent lens on hitters

ST. LOUIS -- A strategy that has worked well for the Cardinals in recent years may be in play for them once again in 2010.

In each of the past two seasons, St. Louis has made an acquisition after the start of Spring Training. Denny Reyes joined the Redbirds in 2009, and of course Kyle Lohse signed in the spring of '08. As camp in Jupiter, Fla., approaches, it's beginning to look like that may be the next time the Cardinals add a significant piece to their roster.

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A report out of the New York area on Wednesday stated that John Smoltz "is believed to be leaning toward" signing with St. Louis, but it's clear that that's more a reflection of the pitcher's preference than the team's. While it's little secret that Smoltz would like to return to St. Louis, there's not much chance of it happening at this point.

General manager John Mozeliak confirmed on Tuesday that after signing Rich Hill to a Minor League contract, the Cards expect that any remaining acquisitions would be on the offensive side of the roster, rather than pitchers.

"That was part of [signing] Hill," Mozeliak said. "It adds some depth to the pitching. And if we do see an opportunity on the offensive side, we have a chance to do it."

However, even that might wait until after camp gets going. A Major League source said on Tuesday that there is sentiment within the Cardinals organization to hold back on any acquisitions until spring or even after Opening Day.

The Cardinals are playing poker, and they've shown they're good at it in recent years. They have demonstrated that they will not jump at a cost they do not like, even for a player they do like -- preferring, rather, to wait until the price is better.

Given the number of free agents who remain available, the market appears to be trending in their direction once again.

The Cardinals could still use a right-handed-hitting center fielder to back up Colby Rasmus, and a couple of intriguing ones remain on the market: Reed Johnson and Rocco Baldelli. They could use a left-handed hitter to man the four corner spots and provide deterrence off the bench. Among the players who fit that bill are Russell Branyan and switch-hitter Felipe Lopez, though Branyan didn't receive much playing time when he was with the Redbirds in 2007.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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