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12/02/08 10:00 AM EST

Signs point to busy Meetings for Cards

All bets are off in Las Vegas as GM Mozeliak has long wish list

ST. LOUIS -- Don't expect to see the Cardinals' delegation participating in much revelry next week in Las Vegas. They've got far too much to do.

With at least three major needs still unmet, the Redbirds' front office will mostly spend the Winter Meetings hunkered down in their suite at the Bellagio. Not that that's the worst fate, by any means.

Still, it figures to be a busy week for St. Louis, which needs a left-handed reliever (or two), a second baseman, a shortstop, and wouldn't mind securing a closer and some starting pitching depth. Monday's arbitration deadline should get some wheels turning, but it's at the Winter Meetings that things could really heat up.

Or not. A slow-developing market has puzzled some in the industry, with only two players signing new deals from the opening of the free-agent market through the end of November.

"I don't think anybody could have gauged how slow things have developed this offseason, so to try to think that this is going to change gears or change pace is hard to predict," said general manager John Mozeliak. "We have what we want to see accomplished as we get into this week and next, but in terms of looking at results, I honestly don't know."

It's not that the plans change when teams arrive at the meetings. And it's not even that you can't get business done during the rest of the offseason. But when everybody descends upon one hotel, the whole situation is much more immediate.

In fact, several players' agents have already announced that their clients will not ink new deals until the meetings begin. So despite the lack of movement thus far, Monday could bring a different tone.

"It doesn't take anybody real insightful to read that this player isn't signing until the Winter Meetings," Mozeliak said. "That rhetoric I don't think is too unusual. What I think is unusual is that there just hasn't been a lot of activity to this point."

Talking to another club can be as easy as walking a few doors down the hall, or dialing four or five digits on the in-room phone. One agent after another can make his pitch, and the club can weigh all of the possibilities against each other.

That could be especially helpful to the Cardinals, who have some interlocking priorities. For example, if they were to add two left-handers, it's possible that one might also double as a swingman -- providing that desired rotation depth. In the middle infield, the addition of an offensive upgrade at second base might allow for a defense-first shortstop, or vice versa.

"We have a lot of things going on, but nothing that has come to fruition at this point," Mozeliak said.

Then there's the interaction between free agency and trades, and of course the budget. The Cardinals have somewhere on the order of $20 million, perhaps up to $25 million, in payroll wiggle room right now -- pending the 2009 salaries of several arbitration-eligible players.

You have to go back to 2003 for the last headline-grabbing move the Cardinals made at the Winter Meetings, but that of course was a big one -- acquiring Adam Wainwright, Jason Marquis and Ray King from the Braves.

More often, the Redbirds lay groundwork for what they want to accomplish, then pull the trigger later. Witness last year, when discussions got under way on a Scott Rolen trade -- but the deal wasn't consummated until January.

This time around, though, the Cards have so much to get done, it will be difficult to finish the entire shopping list without checking off at least an item or two in Las Vegas.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.