Manager Tony La Russa, addressing reporters at baseball's winter meetings in Las Vegas, said, "From Day One, he's been the guy that fit us the best.
"We have a strong right-handed core, whether it's a veteran like Ryan (Franklin) covering (Josh) Kinney or the two kids (Chris Perez and Jason Motte). A quality left-handed reliever like Brian ... he's the guy who was our first choice."
The Cardinals were more encouraged about their chances of signing Fuentes when the market for closers became framed with Francisco Rodriguez going to the New York Mets for three years at $37 million and Kerry Wood going to Cleveland for two years at a reported $20 million.
"I definitely think it helped define the market," general manager John Mozeliak said of those two signings. "I think there were a lot of things swirling prior to all of us arriving (in Las Vegas).
"I look back at the general mangers meetings, and at that time it seemed like it was going to be in a different universe."
The Cardinals are believed to have focused on a two-year offer to Fuentes initially but would consider going to three years. Fuentes had 30 saves in 34 tries for Colorado last season. He was displaced as closer by Manny Corpas the year before when the Rockies won the National League title.
NOTES AND QUOTES
--INF Joe Thurston and C Justin Knoedler landed minor league deals with the Cardinals and were invited to the team's big-league spring camp. Thurston, 29, played four games with the Red Sox last season, and he has had brief stints with the Dodgers and Phillies. Knoedler's big-league experience consists of 14 games with the Giants from 2004-06.
--INF Aaron Miles, LHP Randy Flores, LHP Tyler Johnson were non-tendered by the Cardinals, making them free agents. The two lefties figure to be replaced in the bullpen by newly acquired Trever Miller.
--Although Adam Kennedy asked to be traded late last season, it appears he again will be the Cardinals' second baseman going into spring training. Kennedy, who hit .280 in the second year of a three-year, $10 million contract, "just wants to play," manager Tony La Russa said. "He ended up on a plus note."
--Manager Tony La Russa is high on the chances of CF Colby Rasmus to make the varsity this spring even though Rasmus hit just .251 in an injury-plagued season at Class AAA Memphis. "This guy has a chance to be an impact, everyday player," La Russa said. "He has a chance to be a very special package."
--The Cardinals lost RHP Luis Perdomo to San Francisco in the Rule 5 draft. Perdomo barely had joined the organization, having been acquired from Cleveland last summer for RHP Anthony Reyes.
--The Cardinals seem all right with waiting until later to pursue a starting pitcher, either by trade or free agency. They signed RHP Kyle Lohse, the staff leader with 15 wins, last March after spring training already was in high gear.
--OF Chris Duncan, whose season ended prematurely because of surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck, should be ready for the start of spring training, manager Tony La Russa said.
BY THE NUMBERS: .270 -- Average compiled by left-handed-hitting 2B Adam Kennedy against left-handed pitchers last season. He hadn't done nearly as well (.122) the previous season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You don't want to do anything that takes away from him making his mark as soon as possible." -- Manager Tony La Russa, on the possibility of young CF Colby Rasmus making the 2009 club even if he wouldn't be a starter.
ARRIVALS: SS Khalil Greene (trade with Padres), LHP Trever Miller (free agent from Rays).
DEPARTURES: RHP Matt Clement (free agent, signed with Blue Jays), INF Felipe Lopez (free agent, signed with Diamondbacks), SS Cesar Izturis (free agent, signed with Orioles).
FREE AGENTS: OF Juan Encarnacion, RHP Jason Isringhausen, RHP Braden Looper, LHP Ron Villone, LHP Mark Mulder, RHP Russ Springer, INF Aaron Miles (non-tendered), LHP Randy Flores (non-tendered), LHP Tyler Johnson (non-tendered).