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Cards look for arms at Winter Meetings

Cards on lookout for two arms at Meetings

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ST. LOUIS -- The task facing general manager Walt Jocketty and the Cardinals is quite simple. Easy? Definitely not. But simple, yes. Just find two starting pitchers. It's a straightforward assignment, even if it's a difficult one.

Most of the issues facing St. Louis at the start of the offseason have been addressed. Jim Edmonds will be back, answering what looked like a big question in center field. Adam Kennedy will take Ronnie Belliard's place at second base. Utility man Scott Spiezio will be back for another season. And the bullpen was already pretty well set.

So that leaves starting pitching. And the Redbirds' front office knows it won't be easy, or cheap, to shore up that aspect of the club. They've already brought in one starter, right-hander Kip Wells. When the Winter Meetings get under way in Orlando on Monday, they'll be looking to pick up two more.

"What [the acquisition of Wells] does is secure one more spot in the rotation," Jocketty said. "Instead of just having [Chris] Carpenter and [Anthony] Reyes, we now have Carpenter, Wells and Reyes."

Starting pitching has been the bedrock of the Cardinals' success in recent years, and the rotation has been stable for the most part. But this time around, as in the winter of 2003-2004, the openings are numerous.

That winter, of course, produced two of the deals that set the stage for the Cards' 2004-2006 run. At the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Jocketty executed the trade that brought in Jason Marquis, Adam Wainwright and Ray King. The day after the meetings ended, Jeff Suppan signed as a free agent.

Marquis and Suppan made up two-fifths of a deep and steady rotation for three years, but neither is a guarantee to be back for 2007. Marquis is almost certainly gone. Suppan, along with Jeff Weaver and Mark Mulder, is on the Cards' consideration list, but has also drawn attention from plenty of other clubs.

"We've talked to all of them," Jocketty said. "I had another conversation with Mulder's guy [Tuesday]. We've talked to Suppan's agent once, and I think [assistant general manager John Mozeliak] just talked to him a couple days ago. We talked to Scott Boras once about Weaver, and I'm sure we'll have a conversation in the next week."

Suppan and Weaver found St. Louis to be a great fit, and the Cardinals would be happy to bring either one back. Mulder is in another category, as he's coming off shoulder surgery.

"There's obviously a sense of knowledge, you know what these guys are capable of doing," Jocketty said. "So I think that's important. There's a number of guys that we've scouted and have a lot of information on, but you don't know them as well as you know your own pitchers. So I think those guys would have some advantage, or some priority."

That 2003-04 winter may serve as a guideline this time around for the Cards. They used both methods of Major League player acquisition, trade and free agency. It wouldn't be surprising to see one addition by each means this time around, either.

"I think there may be more trading [at the Winter Meetings]," the GM said. "At least, that's the sense I got. ... I think the free-agent market scared a lot of teams off."

The Cardinals have roughly $15-20 million remaining in their budget to address the starting rotation, plus any other tweaks they may want to make. That could equal two mid-to-upper tier starters. Or it could mean one ace and one bargain-bin pickup. Jocketty said that the Cards have interest in Jason Schmidt. Barry Zito's demands, however, may take him out of the St. Louis picture.

That's not necessarily a matter of dollars, by the way. One major issue to the Cardinals in free-agent dealings is the length of contracts. St. Louis has a strong preference for shorter contracts, especially when dealing with pitchers.

That's a complication. Maybe it won't be simple or easy. But it has to get done.

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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