St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak went to the 2012 winter meetings with a left-handed specialist at the top of his list. He left the meetings with Randy Choate on his roster and appears to have chosen the right man for the job.
In 2012, the bullpen's weakest link was its lack of consistent left-handed relief.
Marc Rzepczynski, who was the Cardinals' savior in 2011, faltered heavily in 2012 after being over-exposed as the only lefty in the bullpen on several occasions.
While Rzepczynski threw 15.1 innings less in 2012, he surrendered an additional four home runs and only one fewer earned run.
Whether the shift in his numbers is due to overexposure or some other issue, there was little doubt that the Cardinals needed to make a move for an additional lefty to bolster their bullpen.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Choate was the man sitting atop their list of hopefuls.
The Cardinals signed Choate to a three-year deal worth $7.5 million. While that may sound like a lot of money for a 37-year-old left-handed bullpen arm, he's exactly what the Cardinals were in need of.
Choate is specifically what he was billed as: a left-handed specialist. In 2012, Choate held opposing left-handed hitters to a .158 batting average in 101 at bats.
His luck against right-handed batters has not been so good. Righties hit .325 off of the Texas native in only 40 at-bats.
In 38.2 IP this past season, he surrendered only one home run. Rzepczynski, who will be sharing the slot with Choate, surrendered seven. This is an area where the Cardinals were in dire need of change.
In 2011-12, Choate posted the two best ERAs of his career: 1.82 and 3.03, respectively.
Another valuable trait the Cardinals will like in Choate is his ability to pitch day after day. He led all of the MLB in appearances by a pitcher in 2010 (85) and again in 2012 (80).
Rzepczynski made 70 appearances in 2012. In eight fewer innings, Choate racked up more strikeouts (38), gave up 17 fewer hits (29) and four fewer runs (18).
The Cardinals have made the right move in this acquisition, but the key will be ensuring that he is used properly.
Rzepczynski was allowed to face 85 right-handed batters in 2012, and he really struggled against them. Both he and Choate will need to be restrained as much as possible to only left-handed batters. There is no room for error with either of them, and overexposure to righties will make that margin even smaller.
By having two experienced left-handers, manager Mike Matheny should find it easier to use them both the way they are meant to be used.
Despite the fact that three years might seem like a long contract for a 37-year-old reliever, in the end, this is a deal that should benefit the Cardinals and help solve their most glaring problem.