St. Louis Cardinals finally get a bullpen veteran by signing Randy Choate

The St. Louis Cardinals didn’t make many moves during last week’s Winter Meetings, but they did complete an important deal to solidify a position the team struggled to fill throughout the 2012 season.

The Cardinals signed left-handed relief pitcher Randy Choate on Friday to a three-year, $7.5 million contract. He will serve as the second lefty in the bullpen behind Marc Rzepczynski and specialize in retiring left-handed batters late in ballgames.

A three-year deal might seem a bit much for a 37-year-old, but the price is reasonable, left-handed relievers tend to last longer than any other position in the sport and Choate fills one of the Cardinals’ few glaring needs.

The Cardinals began the 2011 season with Trevor Miller in his familiar old-guy, left-handed specialist role and then brought in 41-year-old Arthur Rhodes when they dealt Miller in the midseason trade with the Toronto Blue Jays that sent Miller and Colby Rasmus to Canada.

Neither Miller nor Rhodes had spectacular numbers in 2011. Miller had a 4.02 ERA in 39 games, and Rhodes had a 4.15 ERA in 19 regular-season games. But Rhodes was crucial to the Cardinals’ postseason success. He didn’t allow an earned run in his eight appearances.

That lack of a veteran in the bullpen also didn’t help matters in 2012. Closer Jason Motte was the veteran of the group at age 30 when 31-year-old Victor Marte wasn’t around. The Cardinals somewhat desperately needed a veteran bullpen guy.

The bullpen is loaded with young flamethrowers such as Trevor Rosenthal, Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, but those guys need a veteran who has been around the game for a long time to help the young pitchers develop, as well as help lead them through a season and postseason run.

Choate completely fits that job description.

He started his career as a 24-year-old relief pitcher in 2001 for the New York Yankees. Since, he pitched for four different teams in the next 12 years, compiling a 4.02 career ERA. He pitched a combined 80 games last season with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers. He gave up just two homeruns and walked 18 batters in 38 innings. He is the definition of a left-handed specialist given he usually pitched to two batters or fewer in his appearances.

The Cardinals likely won’t take him out of that role. Rzepczynski needs to pitch better than he did last season regardless, but Choate’s presence as a guy who can come in to take care of the power left-handed batter in a tight situation late in games should help everybody. Mitchell Boggs won’t be required to face as many lefties, and the Cardinals should be able to more effectively manage match-ups late in games next season.

As for the rest of the Cardinals’ needs, the middle infield enigma continues to be a discussion topic. Rafael Furcal is still on track to come back from an elbow injury to be the starting shortstop, but the team doesn’t have many glamorous options beyond him.

Rumors have Skip Schumaker going to the Dodgers in a trade that would somehow get the Cardinals shortstop Dee Gordon and a trade with the Cleveland Indians to get Asdrubal Cabrera remains an option, but otherwise the Cardinals are close to already having their 2013 Spring Training roster.

But regardless of what happens the rest of the offseason, the Cardinals made a good, and likely underrated, move by signing Choate to not only face one or two batters a game, but also bring a veteran presence to a bullpen that lacked that aspect in 2012.

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