Looper signs deal to return to St. Louis

Friday, December 16, 2005

The reliever, who signed a three-year contract, is projected as a setup man.

ST. LOUIS -- Braden Looper and the Cardinals agreed Thursday to a $13.5 million, three-year contract, giving St. Louis another newcomer in the bullpen.

Looper had 28 saves in 36 chances with a 3.94 ERA for the New York Mets last season, but will be a setup man for closer Jason Isringhausen with the Cardinals.

The 31-year-old right-hander fills a slot held the past two seasons by Julian Tavarez, who became a free agent.

Looper's deal calls for salaries of $3.5 million in 2006, $4.5 million in 2007 and $5.5 million in 2008. He can earn $1 million annually in performance bonuses, some of them based on games finished in case he becomes the closer.

Earlier this offseason, the National League Central champions signed left-hander Ricardo Rincon to replace lefty Ray King, who was traded to Colorado. The only holdovers in the bullpen are Isringhausen, Randy Flores and rookie Brad Thompson.

Looper was a first-round pick of the Cardinals in 1996, the third overall selection, and pitched in four games for them in 1998 before going to Florida in a trade for shortstop Edgar Renteria. He pitched four seasons with the Marlins and was a member of their 2003 World Series championship team before spending the last two years with the Mets.

"We are glad to have Braden back in our system, and he's glad to be back," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "He will be a quality setup pitcher in our bullpen and be able to close for us on days when Jason is not available."

The Mets wanted a new closer for next season and signed Billy Wagner to a $43 million, four-year deal late last month.

Looper has appeared in 70 or more games in six of his seven major league seasons and has a career record of 25-29 with a 3.47 ERA and 103 saves.

Looper underwent arthroscopic surgery on Oct. 3 to clean out the AC joint in his pitching shoulder, and has passed a physical in St. Louis. He was in the city on Thursday night, attending an awards dinner with Jocketty.

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