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12/11/08 5:44 PM EST

Cards leave Meetings with confidence

No deals done, but club believes it can sign coveted Fuentes

LAS VEGAS -- It's a familiar tune for the Cardinals and the people who follow them. St. Louis' delegation left baseball's annual Winter Meetings at the Bellagio without having made any deals. Yet the front office is more confident than it was four days ago that the club's goals can and will be achieved.

It's the third straight year that the Cardinals leave the Winter Meetings without signing or trading for a player. They haven't made a major deal at the Meetings since 2003, when they traded for Adam Wainwright, Jason Marquis and Ray King.

Talk at the outset of the Winter Meetings centered on trade possibilities, as the Cards shop their outfield depth in hopes of adding a starting pitcher. But as the week went on, it became exceedingly clear that general manager John Mozeliak and his lieutenants are focusing heavily on one position, and in fact on one player.

They want to add Brian Fuentes to close for the Cards. And after meeting with Fuentes himself as well as his agents, the conversations are pretty substantive but not in the final stages.

"We've always made it clear that if we could find a way to address the closer, we're going to try," Mozeliak said. "That hasn't changed. But it's a dynamic that takes mutual interest, and I don't think we're to the point yet where I think anything is imminent."

Other possibilities certainly crossed the Redbirds' radar. They inquired about Seattle's J.J. Putz before the right-hander went to the Mets in a massive trade. They reportedly had a brief dalliance with Francisco Rodriguez before "K-Rod" signed with New York.

But Fuentes is the guy, and the Cardinals believe they can get it done. Other clubs believed to have expressed interest in the left-hander include the Tigers, Brewers and Angels.

"I don't get into offers and that type of thing," Mozeliak said, "but I would characterize it as, it's more than just exploration at this point."

As they continue to hunt their primary prey, the Cardinals have not ignored other possibilities. They're still looking to trade an outfielder from a surplus of at least six Major League-quality players. They'd like to add a starting pitcher to a rotation that may or may not have more than five viable options. And one more left-handed reliever would definitely be welcome, particularly if they non-tender one or two lefties on Friday.

Mozeliak resisted the characterization of his team as being in a "holding pattern" while it waits for consummation of a Fuentes deal. Trades remain possible.

"I would say, look, we've been going through this exercise of Winter Meetings and you're spending a lot of time talking to so many different people," Mozeliak said. "If you look at it on a spectrum of success versus just kind of kicking the tires, I never felt like we were getting to that endgame. I just felt we were doing our due diligence to see what makes the most sense."

Deals done: None

Rule 5 activity: Right-hander Luis Perdomo was selected by the Giants. St. Louis did not take any players in the Major League phase.

Goals accomplished: The Cardinals at least got nearer to finding their closer, identifying some targets and making progress in negotiations. They also got a read on the value of their tradeable outfielders as they continue to ponder dealing an outfielder for a starting pitcher.

Unfinished business: They may have gotten nearer, but they still haven't acquired a pitcher for the ninth inning. It's priority one. Adding depth in the starting rotation remains a goal as well, and St. Louis certainly wouldn't mind acquiring one more left-handed reliever.

GM's bottom line: "What we're trying to do is find ways to get our club better. As you know, there [are] always opportunities to do so. This is just one event that keys a lot of movement. If we don't find some of the answers to some of our questions, I don't think, necessarily, it was a failure or unsuccessful."

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