ST. LOUIS -- Chris Carpenter knows that it's at least possible that he's in his last year as a St. Louis Cardinal. He hopes that's not the case. But for a pitcher who has spent the past eight years or so knowing that nothing is guaranteed, that's not such an enormous worry.

Carpenter is signed through 2011, and the Cardinals hold a club option for 2012 worth $15 million. If St. Louis is able to reach agreement on a new deal with slugger Albert Pujols, it could become much tougher for the team to fit that sum within its payroll. And if media and fans can put two and two together, you know that Carpenter has done the same.

"It has been brought up," Carpenter said on Saturday at the Cards' annual Winter Warm-Up fan festival. "It has been talked about -- I'm not going to lie about it -- inside of my family. But I have no concerns. I have no extra pressure. That stuff, it doesn't bother me. My only goal this year is to be healthy, to be consistent every fifth day every time I get the ball, and do the best I can."

A lengthy injury history has caused Carpenter to never take his next start for granted, never mind his next season. So while he doesn't relish the thought of his time in St. Louis coming to an end, he's prepared to cope if it happens.

"If they want to keep me, they can keep me," he said. "If they don't, I guess I'll have to find another place to play. I don't want to, but that's the way this business is. It's the way it works. Like I said, there's no question it's been talked about. And we're OK with it."

Cards ink Vazquez to Minor League deal

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals completed a deal to bolster the depth on the left side of their infield. Veteran Ramon Vazquez is now in the fold, adding another candidate to compete for the club's two open backup infielder spots. Vazquez received a Minor League deal with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training.

Jose Oquendo, the club's infield coach, said on Saturday at the annual Winter Warm-Up that he had heard that a deal was in place. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Saturday afternoon that a Minor League contract is done, something general manager John Mozeliak later confirmed.

Vazquez will compete with Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso for a utility infield job -- and all three players will join Allen Craig as potential fallback options at third base in the event that David Freese's recovery from ankle surgery goes worse than expected.

"I'm a little concerned about the backup role, who's going to back [Freese] up," Oquendo said.

Vazquez, 34, last played in the Major Leagues in 2009, when he batted .230 with a .335 on-base percentage and a .279 slugging percentage in 239 plate appearances with the Pirates. For his career, he has a .254/.328/.350 line in 696 games with the Mariners, Padres, Red Sox, Indians, Rangers and Pirates.

Freese making progress in quest to return

ST. LOUIS -- David Freese has taken another step forward in his recuperation from two ankle operations.

"I'm running now, so I'm actually having a little fun," Freese told reporters on Saturday at the Cardinals' annual Winter Warm-Up fan festival. "Just doing 'striders,' that kind of stuff. But I am running."

Freese underwent major right ankle surgery last August, followed by a more minor procedure on his left ankle a month later. He said on Saturday that he still hasn't begun making turns when he runs. Still, any kind of running counts as a small victory for Freese, who hopes to be fully ready for Opening Day.

"Just running straight -- I'm not really turning yet or anything," he said. "If it was the NFL, I'd be listed as 'probable,' which is a good sign. We're past the question-mark stage."

Lohse gets ahead in offseason program

ST. LOUIS -- Kyle Lohse is off to an earlier start than usual in his annual preseason throwing program.

Speaking at the Cardinals' annual Winter Warm-Up fan festival, Lohse told reporters on Saturday that he started throwing about two weeks earlier than in most winters. He also said he'll throw off the mound more times before Spring Training starts.

"It's been a good [offseason]," Lohse said. "I started throwing in late December, rather than at the beginning of January -- which I normally do. I just wanted to make sure everything was still working and be a little bit ahead of where I normally am. Normally, I come into Spring Training ready anyway, but I just wanted to test out the forearm and make sure everything is good. ... I won't get off the mound until maybe a couple weeks [from now]. Usually, I get like one or two bullpens in [before Spring Training]. Maybe I'll double that or a little bit more."

Lohse dealt with a right forearm injury from early 2009 until he finally had surgery to correct the condition last season. He struggled to find his form after he returned from the procedure, but said on Saturday that he was highly encouraged by his last start of the '10 regular season. Lohse pitched seven shutout innings on Oct. 2 against the Rockies.

Hitting can wait for recuperating Westbrook

ST. LOUIS -- Although he's preparing for his first full season in the National League, don't expect to see Jake Westbrook swing the bat too much in Spring Training.

Westbrook told reporters on Saturday that he's recovering well from surgery early in the offseason on his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Still, his recovery from the operation means that he'll be restricted when it comes to hitting in the spring.

"I think initially, yeah," Westbrook said. "My left shoulder feels great, though. I think they just don't want to push it too much. I think it's one of the last things they want me to do. Hopefully, I'll just kind of master the art of bunting, or at least get better at it.

"Hitting is probably down on the list of what they want me to do. It's go out and pitch. I've been throwing. My left shoulder feels great. Right arm feels good."

Westbrook signed a two-year contract to return to St. Louis in November, after being traded from Cleveland at the non-waiver Trade Deadline last year.