NASHVILLE, Tenn. Cardinals chairman and principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. walked through the lobby of the Gaylord Opryland Resort Monday morning, admittedly much more relaxed than this time a year ago.
"It's certainly less busy," DeWitt told FOXSportsMidwest.com.
It was at last year's Winter Meetings in Dallas, Tex., when the Cardinals made a last-ditch effort to try and re-sign iconic first baseman Albert Pujols. He eventually declined their best offer and signed with the Anaheim Angels.
The Cardinals spent nearly all their time in Dallas focused on Pujols because they couldn't do much of anything else until they knew whether or not he would be in the fold and for how much.
"It was hard," DeWitt admits. "It was emotionally draining. Given the significance of Albert as a player and a historic Cardinals figure, to be at a point where we were either going to sign him or not and have him go elsewhere, it was hard.
"That was a stressful time for all of us, trying to cope with the Albert situation."
The Cardinals let Pujols walk and used the available money to re-sign shortstop Rafael Furcal and bring in free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran on a two-year contract.
They arrived in Nashville with a much smaller and more manageable checklist this time around. After finishing just one win shy of a return trip to the World Series, the Cardinals are focused on finding a left-handed reliever and adding middle-infield depth.
"It's a good feeling to have our club in pretty good shape," DeWitt said. "We always want to improve it. We're looking to do some things but nothing of major significance.
"I think we could use some middle infield depth. We've gotten great reports on Furcal but until he's out there playing, we're not 100 percent sure. Middle infield depth and a left-handed relief obviously is a focus. We feel like our pitching in general is in pretty good shape. We have a lot of good kids coming."
The Cardinals saw about 24 million come off the books with the likely departures of free agents Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman. But with raises to several players and the contract extension for catcher Yadier Molina beginning this year, the salaries will be about equal next season.
Asked about the payroll, DeWitt said, "It could go up a tick this year, depending on what we need to do to get the missing pieces. "
Left-handed relief doesn't figure to come cheap. The Giants re-signed lefty Jeremy Affeldt to a three-year, 18 million deal while the Nationals' Sean Burnett, regarded as the next best available lefty, turned down a 3.5 milliion option for 2013 to become a free agent.
The Cardinals could also find their lefty via trade.