ST. LOUIS -- The clubhouse at Busch Stadium is festooned with leftover holiday decorations but no uniforms or baseball equipment. Manager Tony La Russa is in town to talk about an upcoming benefit for his charitable organization.

La Russa spoke to reporters on Monday while decked out in a fleece from the Animal Rescue Foundation, his pet cause (pardon the pun). ARF holds its annual "Stars to the Rescue" benefit in St. Louis on Sunday night, Jan. 18, and the manager is making the rounds to pump up the event.

But baseball still dominates the skipper's mind. He discussed a wide variety of topics regarding his 2009 team, especially the subject of who will close for the Cardinals in the upcoming season.

La Russa hinted at a couple of different possibilities, while still expressing a preference to avoid giving ninth-inning duties to Chris Perez or Jason Motte. The most intriguing suggestion was that the Redbirds might sign a starting pitcher with the intention of using him in the ninth inning in 2009.

"You still want to improve your bullpen," La Russa said. "We still want to try. I know we talked about it. The optimum thing is not to ask Chris or Jason to close in '09. Let them grow into the role when they're ready to take it. So who else is out there? One of the things you look at is ... a starter that's a veteran [who has] pitched in the ninth inning with a one-run lead before."

The skipper declined to name pitchers who might fit that bill, except to say that it's a short list. He emphasized that the team is not looking at converting one of its own starters. Moreover, it appears that a return engagement for Jason Isringhausen is unlikely as well.

"We talked about that some," La Russa said. "I don't know how well [Isringhausen] fits. For one thing, I don't know how interested he is in coming back."

So the Cardinals, who missed out on lefty Brian Fuentes, will look at other options. Converting a free-agent starter is a possibility, as is signing a free-agent reliever such as Juan Cruz or Brandon Lyon. The Cards remain cool to the possibility of signing all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman.

"I like Juan Cruz," La Russa said. "But he is a [Type-A] guy and he's looking for a lot of money. ... Lyon is a guy that we've talked about."

La Russa also didn't entirely rule out signing a closer with health issues, such as Takashi Saito or Chad Cordero. The club's front office, however, has expressed significant reservations about signing any more players who are health risks.