LAKELAND, Fla. -- His roster status complicated by being an out-of-options player, lefty Sam Freeman, a 32nd-round draftee of the Cardinals in 2008, was traded to the Rangers on Saturday in exchange for cash considerations or a player to be named later.
The move, while offering Freeman the chance to be on an Opening Day roster for the first time, also begins to clarify the Cardinals' own bullpen picture. Finding a trade partner for Freeman became necessary once the club decided it would carry lefties Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist in its 'pen.
"I felt at this point, with Siegrist and Choate doing what they've done, it was going to be really hard to go with three left-handers in the bullpen," general manager John Mozeliak said.
Freeman arrived at camp as one of two Cardinals players without a Minor League option remaining. That meant in order to send Freeman down to Triple-A Memphis, the Cardinals first would have had to have exposed him on waivers. The club had every expectation that another team would claim him in that scenario, which is why Mozeliak instead pursued a trade.
"I approached it just trying to let everything fall into place and see what ended up happening," said Freeman, who learned he had been traded while sitting in the bullpen during Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Tigers. "[I'll go wherever] opportunity takes me. I'm just looking forward to doing them right by making that trade."
The trade leaves the Cardinals with one bullpen spot remaining, assuming that Trevor Rosenthal, Jordan Walden, Matt Belisle and Seth Maness are all locks. That opening will either be filled by one of the starters squeezed out of a rotation spot or by swingman Carlos Villanueva.
The club is quickly coming to crossroads with this decision, too, as Villanueva has an opt-out clause that he can trigger as early as Monday. Doing so would release him from his contract and make him a free agent. Villanueva has not heard from Mozeliak about the organization's plans. Mozeliak said he plans to discuss the roster situation with Villanueva's agent before the opt-out deadline.
"My preference is to stay here with this group," Villanueva said. "After that first game out there, I felt that I've thrown the ball very well. I have no regrets about how I've pitched. It's not like they haven't seen it before. I think what they needed to see from me is what they've seen in previous years. It's a decision that's out of my hands after that."
The Cardinals signed Villanueva to a Minor League deal in early February, seeing the veteran right-hander as someone who offered them great flexibility. He had made four straight scoreless appearances before allowing a run on Saturday and had pitched more than an inning in four of his seven outings.
Villanueva, a nine-year Major League veteran, indicated that he would not be interested in accepting a Minor League assignment.
"If it was up to me, I would be on this team," he added. "And I think I can be a valuable asset to this team."
Keeping him in the bullpen would eliminate a spot that could otherwise go to either Carlos Martinez or Marco Gonzales, whoever loses out on a rotation spot.
"It's coming down to the wire," manager Mike Matheny said. "We probably have more questions than most clubs do late because we've given ourselves flexibility to not have it done halfway through. We're taking our time to watch these guys compete and also allowing for the potential if something doesn't go right."
With Freeman leaving camp, the Cardinals are left with 37 players competing for a place on the 25-man Opening Day roster.