That said, the team is playing its cards close to the vest for a while longer as it surveys its own landscape, with most of the attention centered on the return of right-hander Chris Carpenter. He has missed virtually all of the past two seasons with a torn ligament in his elbow and then a nerve condition near his shoulder.
If Carpenter is found to be at least reasonably healthy at some point into spring training, the Cardinals are likely to stop looking outside the organization for another starting pitcher. Even if Carpenter needs more time, there are those in the organization who would rather try youngsters for the last starting spot -- Kyle McClellan, who would be converted from a reliever; Mitchell Boggs, who had three wins as a starter in 2008; P.J. Walters or even fast-rising Jess Todd.
It isn't as if the Cardinals haven't shelled out big money for a starting pitcher in the offseason. On the day after the 2008 season, even before he could file for free agency, right-hander Kyle Lohse, a 15-game winner in 2008, re-upped for four years at $41 million.
More likely, the Cardinals will seek relief help -- or a combo starter-reliever -- this spring when they look at the remaining free agents, trade prospects or players who might be released in March because of salary considerations.
NOTES AND QUOTES
--The Cardinals had five relievers who became free agents after the season and one finally signed with another team. Forty-year-old RHP Russ Springer, who had a 2.32 ERA last season, signed with Oakland. RHP Jason Isringhausen and LHPs Randy Flores, Ron Villone and Tyler Johnson remain unsigned.
--C Yadier Molina, whose last two seasons have been cut short by knee and thigh injuries, respectively, has lost 10 to 15 pounds. "My goal is to be healthy all year," said new Gold Glover Molina, who never has played 130 games in a season.
--OF Chris Duncan, who had a disk in his neck replaced last year, said that his rehabilitation period was over and that he was ready for spring training. Duncan, who was limited to six homers in 222 at-bats, said, "I'm excited to re-prove myself. I have to prove I'm healthy, show I'm still a good player ... and everything else should fall into place."
--OF Rick Ankiel, who missed much of the last two months because of a sports hernia condition that required surgery, is likely to be involved in an arbitration hearing this month. He can be a free agent after the season. He said he had told agent Scott Boras, "I want to work in St. Louis. For me, it's about focusing on having a healthy year. If you don't play, nobody's going to want you."
BY THE NUMBERS: .245 -- Batting average against Cardinals RHP Todd Wellemeyer last season, ranking him 15th in the National League.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I learned a lot as a rookie -- especially how to spot my fastball a little bit better." -- RH reliever Chris Perez.