Despite a losing record in his four seasons as St. Louis manager, the Cardinals signed Tony La Russa to a two-year contract extension yesterday.

The move, which keeps La Russa in St. Louis through the 2001 season, had been expected since spring training. It was finalized this week.

La Russa said he was flattered that at least three other major league teams asked the Cardinals about his availability. But in the end he decided St. Louis was where he belonged.

"I like the fact there's still some respect around, but I didn't pay a lot of attention to it because the respect you want to earn is with your ballclub, the organization and the fans," he said.

La Russa won the NL Central title in his first season in St. Louis in 1996, and had the Cardinals within one game of the World Series. But after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Braves in the NL championship series, the Cardinals have not finished higher than third place.

TAIWAN SIGNING: The Rockies agreed to terms on a contract with Tsao Chin-hui, an 18-year-old pitcher from Taiwan. Tsao, who was ineligible for the June draft, is the first Taiwanese player to be signed by the Rockies. He will join the team at spring training in March.

TWIN DECISIONS: The Twins exercised their $3.5 million option on ace Brad Radke and also said goodbye to Marty Cordova, whose career has nose-dived after earning AL rookie of the year honors in 1995. Cordova and IF Brent Gates chose to become free agents rather than accept outright assignments to Class AAA Salt Lake City.