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12/10/08 3:42 PM EST

Closer focus narrowing for Cardinals

St. Louis assessing options as some big names leave market

LAS VEGAS -- The math is pretty simple, and thus the mandate is pretty clear. There are a lot more starting pitchers than closers, so when the available closers start coming off the board, it's time to act.

The Cardinals are seeking a man to pitch the ninth inning, and they're looking at both free agents and trade options. As MLB.com reported on Tuesday night, St. Louis has inquired about the availability of the Mariners' J.J. Putz, while the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Wednesday that "potential targets" for the Cards include Pittsburgh's Matt Capps, Arizona's Jon Rauch and even Jose Valverde of the Astros.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Mariners' asking price for Putz is reportedly extremely high, and it appears unlikely that Rick Ankiel or Ryan Ludwick would be enough to fetch the hard-throwing right-hander.

Meanwhile, Astros general manager Ed Wade told reporters on Monday that Houston is "not interested in trading Valverde" -- a declaration that might well match up with the Post-Dispatch's assertion that talks regarding Valverde "stalled abruptly earlier in the week." Houston would like to shed payroll, but Valverde would be low on the list of names that Wade would like to move in order to achieve that end.

Rauch, who interested the Cards last summer before he was dealt from Washington to Arizona, has carried an extremely heavy workload over the past three seasons. He's made 247 appearances since the start of the 2006 season, 10 more than any other pitcher in baseball. It may have caught up to him last year, as he struggled badly following the trade to the Diamondbacks.

Capps may be the most intriguing name of all -- and thus he would be the hardest to obtain. He's young, cheap and very good, and the Pirates have no desire to move him. The 25-year-old right-hander is three years away from free agency and signed for 2009 at $2.3 million. A combination of Capps, Chris Perez and Jason Motte could be a fearsome back of the bullpen for years to come.

What that means, though, is that Pittsburgh will have to be overwhelmed in order to move Capps. The Pirates' top priority is additional Major League-ready young pitching, which the Cardinals are in no position to deal. St. Louis' primary trade bait, outfield depth, would not help it in negotiations with the Bucs.

The Post-Dispatch also reported that the Cardinals made a late offer to Francisco Rodriguez before Rodriguez agreed to a deal with the Mets.

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