Garciaparra signs with Cubs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) - In Nomar Garciaparra's first day in a Chicago Cubs uniform, the Wrigley Field faithful cheered him during pregame stretching.

They cheered when he took batting practice.

They cheered when his name was announced in the lineup.

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They cheered every time he walked to the plate.

That warm-and-fuzzy welcome made Garciaparra think Chicago might be a place he'd like to play for a few years, and the Cubs' commitment to building a winning team sealed the deal. On Tuesday, the five-time All-Star shortstop agreed to an $8 million, one-year contract with the Cubs that could rise to $11 million with performance bonuses.

''I know we have a great chance of winning - and winning the whole thing - and that's what I want to be a part of. That's something that's important to me,'' Garciaparra said. ''My experience with Jim Hendry is that he's going to go out there and put together the best team that can bring a World Series championship to Chicago.''

Hendry didn't waste any time, agreeing to a $2.7 million, two-year deal with standout defensive catcher Henry Blanco and re-signing second baseman Todd Walker to a $2.5 million, one-year deal that includes an option for 2006.

The Cubs' option is at $2.5 million, and Walker has vesting options at $2.5 million and $2.75 million based on plate appearances.

The Cubs also offered arbitration to right-hander Matt Clement and outfielder Todd Hollandsworth. They did not offer it to left fielder Moises Alou; second baseman Mark Grudzielanek; outfielders Tom Goodwin and Ben Grieve; shortstop Ramon Martinez; catcher Paul Bako; or left-hander Kent Mercker.

''With Nomar and I coming back and the pitching staff we have coming back, we're in good position already,'' Walker said. ''We left some unfinished business out there, and I think this year we're going to take care of it.''

Garciaparra only played 81 games last year because of injuries to his Achilles' tendon, left wrist and groin injuries. But he's a two-time AL batting champion who's hit .300 or better in seven of his nine seasons, and his first appearance on the free agent market generated plenty of interest.

But Garciaparra likes stability. He spent the first 8 1/2 years of his career in Boston, and might have stayed there if the Red Sox hadn't dangled him on the trade market when they were trying to acquire Alex Rodriguez from Texas last winter.

Though the A-Rod deal didn't come together, Garciaparra's feelings were hurt. He turned down a $60 million, four-year extension last winter, and it seemed a matter of when, not if, he would leave Boston.

On July 31, the Red Sox traded him to Chicago as part of a four-team deal - and Garciaparra quickly realized he'd found a new home. He finished the season hitting a combined .308 with nine homers and 41 RBIs.

''Ever since Nomar got here, even though it didn't turn out way he wanted, he was very happy to be here,'' Hendry said. ''Genuinely happy with how well he was received by fans and his teammates. There was a lot of goodwill with his teammates and Dusty.''

Catcher Michael Barrett even gave up his No. 5 - though he did make Garciaparra promise to seriously consider returning to the Cubs.

''I really loved playing there, I really loved the experience I had in the short time I was there,'' Garciaparra said. ''I just felt Chicago is the best place for me. I'm looking forward to going out there and, hopefully, turning this into a long-term relationship.''

Under the performance bonuses in his deal, Garciaparra will make $500,000 each for 535 and 550 plate appearances. He also gets $400,000 each for making 130, 135, 140, 145 and 150 starts.

Walker was stellar as a backup to Grudzielanek last year, hitting .323 the first month of the season. The left-handed batter hit .294 in 60 games as leadoff hitter, with a .370 on-base percentage.

He also was solid defensively, committing just seven errors in 749 1-3 innings.

He, too, probably could have gotten a longer deal somewhere else - he had serious talks with the Rangers - but chose to stay with the Cubs.

''In my gut, I wanted to come back to Chicago,'' he said. ''We're going to have just as good a chance winning the World Series as I thought we had last year.''

The Cubs made their already impressive pitching staff even better with the addition of Blanco, rated by their scouts as the best defensive catcher on the market.

Forced into a starting role with the Minnesota Twins after Joe Mauer tore cartilage in his knee, Blanco compiled a .991 fielding percentage last season, committing just seven errors in 737 chances. He threw out 25 of 56 (45 percent) attempted basestealers, and has thrown out 41 percent for his career.

Blanco also set career highs with 10 homers and 37 RBIs.

''Knowing you're going to have Barrett and Blanco both is tremendous for us,'' Hendry said.