La Russa satisfied with team's offseason effort

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

ST. LOUIS -- Thus far, it's been a fairly quiet offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals. Manager Tony La Russa knows it's still early.

"There's not a lot of clubs doing much and there's a lot of free agents out there," La Russa said Monday. "I'm satisfied that we've taken our best shot a couple times."

Since finishing fourth in the NL Central, their second straight year out of the postseason after winning the 2006 World Series, the Cardinals have traded for shortstop Khalil Greene and signed left-handed reliever Trever Miller to a low-key free agent contract. Thus far they've been stymied in efforts to trade a surplus outfielder for a starting pitcher in case ace Chris Carpenter encounters another setback, and they lost out in the bidding for free agent closer Brian Fuentes.

St. Louis' offer topped the two-year, $17.5 million deal Fuentes got from the Angels, but the left-hander wanted to pitch on the West Coast.

"The only way we were going to get him was to overpay for him, and that's not smart," La Russa said.

For now, the top candidates to close are right-handers Chris Perez and Jason Motte, both coming off their rookie season. Perez had seven saves in 11 chances last year after taking over for Jason Isringhausen, but La Russa never anointed him as the closer and he'd rather not have to settle on either of the kids.

"I refuse to think about it until we get down there and see what we've got," La Russa said. "That's a big responsibility, and you don't want to put it on somebody unless they're ready to do it.

"The smartest thing would be to get somebody that we can mix in there and take a little pressure off the young guys."

Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young winner, is an outside shot to fill the role if the team believes closing is the best way to keep him healthy. Carpenter made only four appearances last season following reconstructive elbow surgery, and underwent another procedure in November to transpose a nerve in the elbow that was causing irritation.

"We want Chris pitching for us, and if I was told he couldn't be healthy throwing 100 pitches every five days and he could be a reliever, I'd take him as a reliever," La Russa said.

So far, medical reports have been positive. But Carpenter hasn't resumed throwing yet.

Right-hander Kyle McClellan, a middle reliever as a rookie last year, is a backup option for the rotation behind Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright, Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pineiro.

"I think we're good enough to compete," La Russa said. "But you're foolish not to try and get better. You can't stop trying."

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