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Cards have four remaining spots to fill

Cards have four remaining spots to fill

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals don't have to go to Plan B. However, Plan A is not completely finished yet.

"Plan B" became the catch-all term for what St. Louis would do if it was unable to retain the services of Matt Holliday. Plan A, of course, was to bring back Holliday -- which the Cards accomplished this week.

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Still, the club has four areas of need on its Major League roster, and six weeks before Spring Training in which to address those needs. It even has somewhere in the order of $6-7 million worth of wiggle room in the budget to do so. The question is how that money should be allocated.

It would be all but impossible to address all four spots -- third base, fifth starter, right-handed relief and the bench -- with the remaining funds. So general manager John Mozeliak and his staff will have to choose wisely.

"It's a great question and one that I don't know the answer to today," Mozeliak said on Thursday when asked what comes next. "[Assistant GM John] Abbamondi, myself, Jeff [Luhnow, scouting director and farm director] and the group will sit down tomorrow. I'll then also get with Tony [La Russa, manager] over the weekend and we'll kind of prioritize what we think, if we had a bullet to use, what would we use it on. Once we get to that point, then we'll look at what's out there and how to use that resource if it's there. We may stand pat. But we'll see."

At just about every spot, the Cardinals do have a fallback in case they don't make an addition. David Freese could handle third base. Jaime Garcia, Mitchell Boggs, Blake Hawksworth or Kyle McClellan could take a rotation spot. The bullpen returns nearly everyone from 2009. The bench, especially from the left side, is really the one spot where there's a hole that needs to be filled from outside the organization.

At third base, a variety of options exist. Miguel Tejada intrigues La Russa and perhaps others in the organization, though signing Holliday may take him out of the Cards' price range. Moreover, spending two years at the hitters' haven in Houston masked what has been a notable offensive decline for the former American League Most Valuable Player.

Agent Scott Boras, who represents Holliday, touted two of his clients as possible fits: Joe Crede and Felipe Lopez. But even Lopez may cost more than the Redbirds want to spend. Crede could come cheap, since he made $2.5 million in 2009 and has dealt with injuries. But Mozeliak continues to sound as though the plan is to go into the season with Freese at third base.

That's despite Freese's drunk-driving arrest earlier this winter, an issue which Mozeliak didn't dismiss but indicated wouldn't keep the youngster from winning a job.

"I think he's taking the right steps right now and I think he's going to be given an opportunity," Mozeliak said. "But now, he has to take ownership. If he continues to work and be responsible, he'll have a good chance."

The more likely move may be in the starting rotation, where Garcia intrigues but also worries the club because he is coming off elbow surgery. The Cardinals have had some interest in Vicente Padilla, especially if Padilla could be signed to a reasonably-priced, one-year contract, and Padilla has some interest in St. Louis. A move like that might be the main "bullet" for the Redbirds.

Even if they sign a third baseman or a pitcher, however, the Cards still need to do something for their bench. They could use someone who could play center field, as well as a left-handed bat to man the corner outfield and perhaps infield spots. Bullpen help may be the least pressing need, but it remains an area of intrigue. The Cardinals would like to add a strikeout pitcher to set up Ryan Franklin, someone who might step in and close on days when Franklin could use a rest.

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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