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St. Louis Cardinals rumors: Cardinals no longer in the market for a free-agent backup catcher or lefthanded reliever

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The Cardinals tested the free-agent market, but couldn't find a fit at backup catcher or in a lefthanded reliever.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals entered last season with organizational soldier Tony Cruz as the club's backup to all-universe backstop Yadier Molina. When Molina tore ligaments in his right wrist and required corrective surgery that sidelined him for a month, the Cards initially acquired a lefthanded-hitting catcher to back-up Cruz in George Kottaras. But after Cruz got off to a less stellar start as the everyday catcher in Molina's absence, general manager John Mozeliak called an audible and signed veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who had been released outright by the Boston Red Sox earlier in the summer.

Pierzynski flew to Chicago, where St. Louis was playing the Cubs, and started the Cardinals' next game, on June 26. Between then and Molina's activation and return to action on August 29, Pierzynski started 18 games to Cruz's 21. Unfortunately, Pierzynski and Cruz combined do not a Yadi make. The duo hit badly during Molina's absence and for the 2014 season and were not particularly impressive in the field, making the catcher position sub-replacement-level for the Redbirds when it wasn't manned by Molina.

Tony Cruz

PA

HR

BB%

K%

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wRC+

fWAR

rWAR

150

1

8.7

18.7

.200

.270

.259

.530

.059

51

-0.5

-1.0

A.J. Pierzynski

Team

PA

HR

BB%

K%

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wRC+

fWAR

rWAR

BOS

274

4

3.3

14.6

.254

.286

.348

.633

.094

71

-0.1

-0.3

STL

88

1

5.7

15.9

.244

.295

.305

.600

.061

72

-0.3

-0.9

Total

362

5

3.9

14.9

.251

.288

.337

.625

.086

72

-0.4

-1.2

After Molina returned to the fold, he started 27 games; Pierzynski and Cruz started two games apiece. In October, the Cardinals opted for Cruz over Pierzynski as the club's second-string catcher behind Molina. For the NLCS, the Cards carried both Pierzynski and Cruz, a move that worked out well when Molina went down with an injury.

Given the club's preference for Cruz over Pierzynski in the NLDS and Mozeliak's stated plan to tender Cruz a contract in the immediate aftermath, it's none too surprising the Cardinals are set to go with him as their backup in 2015. Based on Derrick Goold's article at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it appears as if the Cardinals investigated whether any veteran free agents were interested in coming to St. Louis:

At the start of the offseason, Mozeliak mentioned that he would peruse the free-agent market for both a backup catcher who could bring some more offense to the role and, possibly, a lefthanded reliever to reshape the look of the bullpen. He edited the list Monday, saying that he doesn’t see either as a pressing need — or an appealing option. The catchers the Cardinals approached were not keen on the little playing time that comes with being Yadier Molina’s backup, and the addition of righties Matt Belisle and Jorden Walden to the bullpen make keeping lefty specialist Randy Choate possible and mutually agreeable.

Could the Cards use a veteran backup catcher with a better bat than Cruz? Yes. As we've seen, Cruz isn't a palatable option to play every day if Molina goes down due to injury. The problem with Molina insurance, though, is that Yadi catches so many games, players don't view being his backup as particularly attractive. And as free agents, they are free to sign elsewhere and receive more playing time. As good as David Ross or some other free agent would look wearing the birds on the bat, players of his caliber are apparently uninterested in the lack of playing time that comes as part of the job description for the backup catcher role in St. Louis.

Goold also reveals that the Cardinals are no longer looking to add a lefthanded reliever via free agency. You may recall that, earlier in the offseason, St. Louis was rumored to be targeting late-inning southpaw Andrew Miller, who signed a four-year, $40 million contract with the New York Yankees. Given Miller's price tag and the options the Cardinals have on their 40-man roster, it's not surprising to hear that they are no longer actively seeking a portsider to fill a relief role.

The current balance of potential bullpen arms makes the Cardinals' decision, as reported by Goold, to bow out of the lefty relief market less than surprising. As we broke down earlier this offseason, the Cards have five southpaws lined up for potential relief duty in Marco Gonzales (who more and more seems like a spring-training starter more as an insurance policy against potential injury than actual Carlos Martinez competitor), Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist, Sam Freeman, Nick Greenwood, and Tyler Lyons. With seemingly no longer on the trading block due to the difficulty in deploying him because of his highly specialized skill set, the Cards have more than enough lefties to supply two (if not three) lefthanded relievers for the opening-day bullpen.

If the Cardinals need an additional reliever at all, it would probably be another righty. At present, the likely opening-day righthanded relief corps will consist of Trevor Rosenthal, Jordan Walden, Seth Maness, and Matt Belisle. Assuming the Cards go with the typical bullpen composition of five righties and two lefties, that leaves one more spot to be filled by Martinez (the frontrunner in the No. 5 starter competition) and Sam Tuivailala (who has thrown 23 1/3 innings above A-ball in his professional career). Ken Rosenthal of FOX tweeted on Tuesday that the Cards might look to sign a No. 5 starter/long man type in January, if the price is right, which would likely displace Greenwood. One wonders if they might also seek to catch lightning in a bottle a la Pat Neshek by signing a veteran righty or two to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Correction: For the second time this offseason, the author incorrectly identified Nick Greenwood as being righthanded. Greenwood throws lefthanded. The post has been corrected to reflect this reality.