Cardinals, Looper agree to $13.5M, three-year deal

ST. LOUIS -- Braden Looper and the Cardinals agreed Thursday
to a $13.5 million, three-year contract, giving St. Louis another
newcomer in the bullpen.

Looper had 28 saves in 36 chances with a 3.94 ERA for the New
York Mets last season, but will be a setup man for closer Jason
Isringhausen with the Cardinals. The 31-year-old right-hander fills
a slot held the past two seasons by Julian Tavarez, who became a
free agent.
Looper's deal calls for salaries of $3.5 million in 2006, $4.5
million in 2007 and $5.5 million in 2008. He can earn $1 million
annually in performance bonuses, some of them based on games
finished in case he becomes the closer.
Earlier this offseason, the NL Central champions signed
left-hander Ricardo Rincon to replace lefty Ray King, who was
traded to Colorado. The only holdovers in the bullpen are
Isringhausen, Randy Flores and rookie Brad Thompson.
Looper was a first-round pick of the Cardinals in 1996, the
third overall selection, and pitched in four games for them in 1998
before going to Florida in a trade for shortstop Edgar Renteria. He
pitched four seasons with the Marlins and was a member of their
2003 World Series championship team before spending the last two
years with the Mets.
"We are glad to have Braden back in our system, and he's glad
to be back," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "He will be a
quality setup pitcher in our bullpen and be able to close for us on
days when Jason is not available."
The Mets wanted a new closer for next season and signed Billy Wagner to a $43 million, four-year deal late last month.
Looper has appeared in 70 or more games in six of his seven
major league seasons and has a career record of 25-29 with a 3.47
ERA and 103 saves. Against the Cardinals he has three saves and a
0.00 ERA in 16 career games covering 17 innings.
Looper underwent arthroscopic surgery on Oct. 3 to clean out the
AC joint in his pitching shoulder, and has passed a physical in St.
Louis. He was in the city on Thursday night, attending an awards
dinner with Jocketty.
The Cardinals, coming off consecutive 100-win seasons, are still
looking for two corner outfielders and a second baseman. They need
replacements for the retired Larry Walker, along with Reggie Sanders and Mark Grudzielanek, who are free agents.