ST. LOUIS -- If the past two weeks resembled a spy game, and to some extent they did, then a different kind of movie got under way at 11:01 p.m. CT on Thursday. For the next month or two, baseball's Hot Stove season becomes a Wild West shootout.
Free agency took on a different look at that moment. Teams are now free to talk years and dollars with all free agents. Over the previous 15 days, since the end of the World Series, each club maintained exclusive negotiating rights with its own free agents. Now it's a free-for-all.
And the Cardinals will need to be right in the middle of it.
St. Louis stands to lose seven free agents and could sign as many as five or six. The Cardinals need one or two left-handed relievers, a second baseman, a shortstop and perhaps a closer and another starting pitcher.
Some of those needs may be met via trades, but at least some of it will have to happen in free agency. As for when it gets done, that's another matter.
"We've built a foundation of what we're trying to do," general manager John Mozeliak said on Thursday. "But once the market opens, a lot of agents and players are really going to try to survey the landscape rather than just jump into anything.
"Is there a chance we could do something quicker? Yeah, there's always that chance. But I'm only speaking on behalf of what I know. I have no idea of how they're looking at it."
Most of the Cards' unsigned free agents from 2008 appear likely to depart, though catcher Jason LaRue has already re-upped. Mark Mulder, Ron Villone and Braden Looper are unlikely to be pursued with any major fervor by St. Louis. Juan Encarnacion's baseball fate remains undecided as he attempts to recuperate from a serious eye injury.
Russ Springer may hold some interest and would like to come back. But Springer is not at the top of the club's priority list and might find greener pastures before the Cardinals make a hard run at him. Cesar Izturis, likewise, doesn't seem to be very prominent in the Cards' picture.
The two players who might still have a real chance of working something out for a return are Jason Isringhausen and Felipe Lopez. But neither is at the top of the shopping list, so, as with Springer, if someone comes along with a blow-me-away offer for either one, they could be gone.
The good news, though, is that there's plenty out there. Left-handed relievers on the market include Joe Beimel, Will Ohman and Jeremy Affeldt. The list of second basemen is headed by Orlando Hudson and former Cardinal Mark Grudzielanek. Shortstop is a bit thinner, but a reunion with Edgar Renteria is at least a possibility.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.