Can the Cardinals "Close" a deal on Fuentes?

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa insists the signing of free agent Brian Fuentes is the teams #1 priority, the question remains, can they close the deal on the 33-year-old left-handed closer?

The winter started with the St. Louis Cardinals focusing on getting a starting pitcher, two-left handed relievers to fill the vacancies in the beleaguered bullpen and to upgrade their middle-infield.

Prior to baseball's winter meetings to address these needs, the Cardinals basically rented San Diego shortstop Khalil Greene for a year, trading disgruntled pitching prospect Todd Worrell, a potential closer candidate, and a player to be named later, for the flashy shortstop who will be a free-agent at the end of next season. Greene is coming off the worstseason of his career in which he batted .213 with a .260 on base percentage, a .339 slugging percentage and 10 homers.

After weeks of negotiations the Cardinals finally signed Tampa Bay's left-handed reliever, Trever Miller to fill one of the holes in the bullpen. The 35-year-old is a veteran of eight-plus seasons in the majors and was a member of the 2008 American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays. Miller went 2-0 with a 4.15 ERA in 2008, appearing in 68 games – the 7th highest total among American League lefties.

Going into the baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas, St. Louis fans expected the Cardinals general manager, John Mozeliak, to focus on making a deal for a starter, either through a big trade or via signing a free agent.

The Cardinals have been linked for days to rumors, some unfounded, for starters; A.J. Burnett, Jake Peavy, Oliver Perez, Andy Pettitte, Jon Garland, Randy Wolf and Brad Penny, among others.

Mozeliak stated prior to the baseball winter meetings, that the Cardinals are more likely to acquire a starter through trade than free agency, fueling expectations that a deal could materialize before the Cardinals brain trust departed from Las Vegas, a little richer than poorer.

In somewhat of a twist Wednesday, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told reporters, that signing former Colorado Rockies closer, free-agent lefthander Brian Fuentes is the club's number one priority. An announcement that apparently shifted the team's focus for at least for the next 24-48 hours.

The Cardinals had been linked to Fuentes earlier, but most pundits considered him out of reach for St. Louis, because the closer's agent initially was looking for a four-year deal, in the $44 million range.

In a report published by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Mozeliak denied having extended a formal offer to Fuentes; though the Cardinals were expected to meet with the pitcher's lead agent, Rick Thurman, late Wednesday night. At the time of this report, there wasn't any information available, as to the results from Wednesday's late night meetings.

The 33-year-old Fuentes is coming off the best season of his career, racking up 30 saves, a remarkable number, considering he didn't assume the role of closer until the end of April and he played on a losing team.

Widely thought of as the second-most sought after closer this offseason after the Angels Francisco Rodriguez, how much money Fuentes will demand as a free-agent remains a question. The Cardinals were apparently out-bidded earlier as they pursued Rodriguez, the former Los Angeles closer reportedly accepted a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $37 million from the New York Mets.

According to sources familiar with the negotiations with New York, Fuentes' agent was seeking a three-year deal worth $10 million to $11 million annually, with the Mets, before they decided to sign Rodriguez. This most recent marked-down proposal probably laid the ground work for the renewed interest from the Cardinals for Fuentes.

For sure, the market for closers is changing and fluctuating to the point, that the Cardinals could sign Fuentes two a two-to-three year deal, worth in the neighborhood of $20 million to $22 million.

The question remains, can the Cardinals close the deal?

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