Sunday Morning Coffee with Ray Mileur

As the New Year gets underway and the countdown to spring training begins in earnest, the St. Louis Cardinals continue their prolonged quest for a closer and another starter. The talk around the coffee table this morning is about Trevor Hoffman, Eddie Guardado, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf, Chris Carpenter, California girls, kitty litter and of course the departure of Aaron Miles.

Early in December, at the baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas, the Cardinals identified free-agent closer, Brian Fuentes as their top priority. They'll have to fall back to plan B or plan C, after Fuentes celebrated the coming of the New Year, signing a two-year deal with the Angels on Wednesday.

With Fuentes off the market, three of the top four free-agent closers have been signed. First, Francisco Rodriguez, turned down an offer from the Cardinals and signed with the New York Mets. Former Chicago Cub, Kerry Wood, inked a two-year deal in the American League, with the Cleveland Indians, leaving veteran righty, Trevor Hoffman, baseball's all-time saves leader, still on the market.

The Cardinals apparently don't consider Hoffman as an option, even though last season, at the age of 40, he still recorded 30 saves and a 3.77 ERA for the last place San Diego Padres. The Padres had offered Hoffman a one-year deal for $4 million, with a team option for $4 million in 2010, before rescinding the offer in November, to cut payroll to comply with a directive from the team's owner.

According to the grapevine, Hoffman was upset about the abrupt, impersonal way the club ended contract talks. Adding salt to the wounds, the club also refused the closer's request for a meeting with top executives. Nothing was ever reported that Hoffman was offended by the terms of the contract.

The Cardinals are hesitant to give the closer role to either Chris Perez or Jason Motte this season, preferring to sign a major league veteran as a bridge to the dynamic duo. The closer market is drying up, to the point that they may want to reconsider making an offer to the 41-year-old Hoffman.

Hoffman has indicated that he would be open to any offers, leading one to believe that he would entertain an offer from St. Louis similar to the one he received from San Diego. Hoffman could be a valuable addition to the bullpen and what better teacher for a future closer than to work beside one of the all-time greats?

On another front, the Cardinals are still interested in signing a starter, with lefties Oliver Perez and Randy Wolf, making the biggest blips on their radar screen. Perez, 27, went 10-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 34 games for the Mets this past season and won 15 games for them in 2007. Wolf, 32, split time between the Astros and Padres in 2008, going a combined 12-12 with a 4.30 ERA.

The Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, may be playing against a stacked deck trying to acquire Perez. The New York Mets are widely considered as the front runners in signing Perez. The only thing holding up the deal is that the Mets have made a three-year offer to free-agent right hander Derek Lowe. Perez and Lowe are both represented by agent Scott Boras. Lowe wasn't impressed with the Mets three-year offer for $36 million, so expect some delays in Lowe coming to terms with Mets or someone else. Any deal for Perez will hinge on Lowe's contract getting done, forcing the Cardinals into a wait and see mode for Perez.

Randy Wolf, the left-hander from West Hills, California, is interested in going home again and has expressed an interest in returning to the Dodgers, the team that declined his $9 million option for 2008. Wolf, a ten-year major league veteran, has compiled a career 90-78 record and 4.26 ERA. According to a report by Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, Wolf is seeking a deal in the neighborhood of three-years for $30 million. The Dodgers may not be willing to met Wolf's demands, but they have an edge in acquiring Wolf, who would like to play on the green grass of home.

Perhaps the Cardinals could bus a load of California girls to St. Louis to make Wolf feel at home. If nothing else, a bus load of California girls at every game, would go a long way in adverting the drop in attendance that is expected by the Cardinals' owners.

NOTES AND QUOTES

--- Aaron Miles - "We took a big hit with Miles," La Russa told Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "I never had a teammate any better than Aaron Miles, in all of the years I've managed. This guy deserves every bit of credit, recognition, respect for his three years with us that you could give him. This guy was really good for us. It was paining for him to leave us, and he left, and that's a tough loss."

"We understood the risk we took when we non-tendered him." -- GM John Mozeliak on Miles signing with the Cubs.

My daughter Kelly's response to Miles signing with the Cubs, "Shut Up!", I'm not sure what that means, but I've been somewhat confused ever since she became engaged to a Cub fan over the Holidays. Talk about a "Blue Christmas".

Can you imagine, in six months I have to give my daughter away to a Cubs fan? OK, I'm going to love this one, just one Cub fan, you have to draw the line somewhere.

---Chris Carpenter, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, manager Tony La Russa said he would consider using Chris Carpenter as the team's closer this season.

---Free Agent Closers, still on the market, include such notables as; Takashi Saito, Eddie Guardado and Eric Gagne. Of the three, left hander Eddie Guardado, could be of some value in the Cardinals bullpen as a lefty specialist. Guardado pitched well for Texas last season before being traded to the Twins near the end of August. He's indicated a desire to play for Arizona, but hey, it gets hot in St. Louis in the summer time. Maybe the Cardinals can have 100 tons of sand or kitty litter delivered to the Ballpark Village, to create that Arizona atmosphere in St. Louis.

---Prospects, the Sporting News' Fantasy Baseball 2009 magazine, are on the shelves in the book This is one of my favorite magazines in the offseason and it's worth the $7.99 purchase price. Of note in this issue, they rank the Top 50 Prospects in baseball, with four Cardinals making the list; OF Colby Rasmus at #7, RHP Chris Perez at #22, Jason Motte coming in at #28 and closing out the countdown, at #50, Mitchell Boggs.

A reader asked me this week if Mitchell Boggs would be ready to step into the rotation next season. My take is, you certainly have to consider him along with Jess Todd as candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation, if Carpenter isn't ready to answer the bell and St. Louis hasn't signed another veteran starter.



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