Cards' search for starters hits snag

Cards' search for starting pitching hits snag

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In a sequence reminiscent of a year ago in Dallas, the Cardinals have come up just short in their pursuit of the top right-handed free-agent pitcher on the market.

St. Louis' final offer to Jason Schmidt apparently wasn't enough to convince the former Giant to pass on a deal with the Dodgers. That leaves the Cards pondering other options for filling their starting rotation. Last year, the Redbirds were left in a similar situation after A.J. Burnett signed with the Blue Jays.

As of Wednesday night, the Schmidt deal had not been made official, leaving open speculation that the Cardinals might still be in the mix. Given that Schmidt has told some of his former teammates from San Francisco that he intends to become a Dodger, though, that would seem to be a long shot. Additionally, a Cardinals official acknowledged late Wednesday night that the club's pursuit was all but dead, and that the Cardinals expected Schmidt to become a Dodger.

And so, the market for starters finally appeared to gain momentum on Wednesday at baseball's annual Winter Meetings. Ted Lilly reached an agreement with the Cubs, while the Phillies acquired Freddy Garcia in a trade with the White Sox. As the pool dwindled, the urgency increased for teams looking for rotation help -- a group that includes the Redbirds.

General manager Walt Jocketty did not hold the customary evening briefing with local media Wednesday. He could not be reached for comment on Wednesday night.

The No. 2 name on the St. Louis priority list, at least for the time being, may be Miguel Batista, most recently of the Diamondbacks. Kansas City is also reportedly in the hunt for Batista, who went 11-8 with a 4.58 ERA for Arizona in 2006. Batista has pitched more than 190 innings in three of the past four seasons, with the only exception being 2005, when he was the Blue Jays' closer.

One name that seems to remain only distantly on the St. Louis radar is that of Jeff Suppan. The right-hander, who spent the past three years as a Cardinal, seems to be low on the club's priority list even if Schmidt is out of the picture.

Suppan's agent, Scott Leventhal, said Wednesday afternoon that he had not had further conversations with St. Louis on Wednesday, and that no further conversations were scheduled.

"The way we see it with the Cardinals," Leventhal said, "is that the ball is in their court."

Leventhal did not express any particular optimism that his client would return to the team for which he played the last three years. He didn't rule out the Cardinals, but said that the process is moving forward fairly quickly with at least a couple of other teams.

"From our perspective, things are intensifying," he said, referring to discussions with teams other than the Cardinals.

Late Wednesday night, after the Phillies acquired Garcia, it became clearer than ever that veteran Jon Lieber is on the block. The veteran, who has intrigued the Cardinals in the past, has exceptional command, but can be vulnerable to the home run. Lieber would likely be available for bullpen help if the Cardinals wished to go that way. However, other clubs represent more likely destinations for Lieber.

On the offensive side of things, rumors circulated that the Redbirds might be a suitor for Barry Bonds. However, that gained little traction as Bonds and the Giants reportedly neared reconciliation. A Cardinals representative said that Bonds is not a factor in the team's discussions.

The Cardinals contingent will leave the Orlando area by midday on Thursday, following the Rule 5 Draft. Due to rules changes that changed the eligibility guidelines for the Rule 5 Draft, the pool of players is much less compelling than in years past. According to a club official, St. Louis does not expect to select any players in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning.

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