Fuentes, Miles bypass Cardinals
Left-handed closer was key target during offseason
Two free agents who each held at least some interest for the Cardinals agreed to new deals elsewhere on Wednesday, leaving St. Louis to open 2009 with a couple of questions to answer.
Brian Fuentes reached agreement with the Angels on a two-year contract with an option for 2011 worth a guaranteed $17.5 million. The left-handed reliever, formerly of the Rockies, had been identified by Cards manager Tony La Russa as the club's top priority in the 2008-09 offseason.
"We made a very strong run out at the Winter Meetings," general manager John Mozeliak said on Wednesday. "And then with so much dead time, there wasn't much action. So when it really came time, I got basically called a few days ago to re-engage."
An industry source indicated that the Cardinals' offer to Fuentes was at least in the ballpark with the deal he signed with Los Angeles. The Cardinals offered two years with an option, according to the source. However, Fuentes had expressed a desire to play near his California home, and it appears that may have been the determining factor in his decision.
"I think he ended up where he wanted," Mozeliak said.
Said Fuentes: "Sometimes it [seemed] like we're a day away from something, and the next day it [seemed] like there's nothing going on. There's all that back and forth, but when I add it all up, I'm happy with how it turned out. I'm with a class organization."
Meanwhile, infielder Aaron Miles, who was non-tendered by the Cardinals earlier this month, will join the Cubs on a two-year pact worth a reported $4.9 million. The Cards had some interest in retaining Miles, but only at the right price -- and a two-year deal for a utility player quite likely made it easy for St. Louis to pass.
Miles expressed annoyance at his handling by the Cardinals.
"I was a little surprised," Miles said. "I thought, given the situation and how well I did last year, that I was part of the team over there. Financially, I understand why they did it. It was still kind of shocking, because I figured I had a place over there.
"In the end, they non-tendered me two years in a row, and I felt that the attraction to me being there wasn't as big as it was before."
The greater concern to St. Louis, though, is Fuentes. The Cardinals had hoped to add a closer this offseason, rather than going with any of the youngsters already on their roster. However, that may no longer be viable.
"[Using a pitcher already in-house to close] has always been an option," Mozeliak said, although manager Tony La Russa has expressed little enthusiasm for such a course. "That's never changed. I think when we saw the market change on closers is when we engaged. So we made an attempt. We weren't [Fuentes'] first choice."
With Fuentes going to Los Angeles, the list of available ninth-inning pitchers is getting shorter. Available in free agency are Trevor Hoffman and Chad Cordero, both of whom have drawn tepid interest from St. Louis at best, as well as non-tendered Takashi Saito, who comes with health questions.
Such pitchers likely hold little interest for the Cardinals.
"Some of the higher medical risk players out there, I would say that is not the path we necessarily want to go down at this point," Mozeliak said. "I'd rather have more of a sure thing."
Closers possibly available in trade include the White Sox's Bobby Jenks, Houston's Jose Valverde and Huston Street of Colorado. It's also possible that the Mets might have some interest in flipping J.J. Putz, whom they acquired from Seattle to be a setup man.
As for the middle infield, the Cardinals have a variety of options to back up starters Adam Kennedy and Khalil Greene. Brendan Ryan and Brian Barden both have some Major League experience in St. Louis. Recent Minor League signee Joe Thurston could compete for a job, as could prospect Tyler Greene, a shortstop by trade who played numerous positions in the Arizona Fall League earlier this year.
The Cardinals also could sign a utility player in free agency before Spring Training begins.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Carrie Muskat and Lyle Spencer contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.