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Free-agent starters an option for Cards

Free-agent starters an option for Cards

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ST. LOUIS -- Barring a surprising development of some sort, the Cardinals' closer for 2009 is likely already on the club's roster. The situation at second base may be unclear, but odds are that most of the at-bats there will also be taken by players already in-house.

One area where the Redbirds would still love to make an upgrade, though, is the starting rotation. Ideally, the club would trade from its surplus of outfielders to add a starting pitcher, but free agency is also an option.

The problem is that the Cards have made it clear that they have no interest in a long-term deal for a starter. They already have three starting pitchers -- Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright -- under contract through at least 2011. Thus there is a reluctance to commit that many years in another contract for the same segment of the team.

On the other end of things, though, the Cardinals are also reluctant to take on a pitcher with a risky health profile. Carpenter's uncertain status is one of the reasons St. Louis would like to acquire another starter. That adds up to a tough sell -- a healthy and dependable starter who won't command a long-term deal.

Here's a look at the starters remaining on the market. It's a relatively short list. Only nine unsigned (and not yet retired) free-agent starters pitched 150 innings last year. Of those nine, Paul Byrd recently told FOXSports.com that he doesn't intend to pitch in the first half, and it's uncertain whether Kenny Rogers will choose to pitch again.

That leaves a list of seven: Andy Pettitte, Braden Looper, Ben Sheets, Jon Garland, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf and Odalis Perez.

Jon Garland: His agent, Craig Landis, has confirmed to MLB.com that the Cardinals "have called," but nothing further. Still, Garland fits in several ways. He's pitched more than 190 innings in each of the past seven seasons. He throws strikes, and though he's not really a groundball pitcher, neither was Jeff Suppan -- a pitcher in some ways comparable to Garland. It's unclear what exactly the market is for Garland, who declined arbitration and is a Type B free agent.

Andy Pettitte: In some ways, he's a perfect fit. A left-hander would add some balance to the St. Louis rotation, and Pettitte reconsiders his desire to keep pitching each winter -- so he could likely be had on a one-year deal. He's the only remaining free agent who reached 200 innings in 2008. In fact, he's hit that milestone four years running. Pettitte would likely cost quite a bit -- he reportedly turned down $10 million from the Yankees -- but also might well be worth it.

Braden Looper: Remember him? Looper was a dependable member of the St. Louis rotation two years running. The Cardinals declined to offer him arbitration, but the truth is that if the Cards are shopping in the free-agent starter marketplace, they're essentially looking to replace Looper.

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Randy Wolf: The Cardinals pursued Wolf aggressively in the winter of 2006-07, when he turned them down to go home to the West Coast. He's coming off his first season of more than 23 starts or 136 2/3 innings since 2003, a history that may give the Redbirds pause. But he's a lefty, and he thrived in the NL Central after a trade to Houston.

Odalis Perez: The Cardinals have some history of putting a lot of weight on what they've seen with their own eyes. If that's the case with Perez, he won't be signing in St. Louis. Cardinals fans likely best know the former Brave, Dodger, Royal and National as Albert Pujols' personal punching bag, but he's coming off a quietly solid year in Washington.

Ben Sheets: For sheer effectiveness, there's no one in Sheets' league on this list. He's the closest thing to an ace, but everyone knows his health history. Most recent was elbow trouble that kept him out of the playoffs -- and likely kept him from being considered for the sort of megadeal that A.J. Burnett received. Sheets' market is one of the hardest to read, but some teams have clear interest -- notably the Rangers. Like Pettitte, he probably won't be cheap. Like Pettitte, there's a reason for that.

Oliver Perez: If the Cardinals stick to a short-term strategy, it's difficult to envision them signing Perez. The left-hander is, according to numerous reports, in line for one of the bigger pitching deals this winter, especially after the Mets missed out on Derek Lowe.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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