Izturis In, Eckstein Out at Short for Cards

The St. Louis Cardinals are adding a new shortstop and perhaps saying goodbye to another as Cesar Izturis has been signed while free agent David Eckstein continues to seek offers elsewhere.

Apparently deciding to go younger and cheaper at the shortstop position for 2008, the St. Louis Cardinals have come to terms with free agent Cesar Izturis on a one-year deal. This likely means that incumbent 32-year-old shortstop David Eckstein will be playing elsewhere next season following three years as the Cards' starter.

Izturis has been well-traveled in recent seasons, joining his fourth organization in three years. The 27-year-old Venezuelan reached the majors with Toronto in 2001, but spent a majority of his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. At the July 2006 trade deadline, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

One year later, his star dimming, Izturis moved on to the Pittsburgh Pirates with salary in return for a player to be named later, though the Pirates already had a starting shortstop, former Cardinals farmhand Jack Wilson.

Izturis' 2007 salary was $4.15 million. The Bucs assumed a $5.45M club option for 2008, but instead exercised a $300,000 buyout and cut the player loose two weeks ago. His salary as a new Cardinal will be $2.85 million plus $650,000 in plate appearance incentives.

Offensively, Izturis is hardly an on-base machine, posting a career .259/.295/.334 mark (BA/OBP/SLG) in seven seasons. While not an ideal leadoff man himself, Eckstein did serve in that role in the vast majority of his time as a Cardinal and his .351 career OBP puts Izturis' mark in context. Eckstein's replacement in the leadoff spot for the 2008 Cardinals is unclear, though at the other end of the order with Izturis on board, manager Tony La Russa may now have justification for continuing to bat his pitcher in the eighth spot.

In the 2007 Elias Rankings, which take into account offensive contribution over the last two seasons, Izturis is ranked 78th of 90 National Leaguers at the combined second base-shortstop-third base positions. For comparison, Eckstein is number 31.

A slick fielder defensively, Izturis has basically been a league-average shortstop in terms of range factor and a bit above average in fielding percentage. He earned a Gold Glove Award in 2004 and a National League All-Star nod in 2005. His younger brother Maicer is an infielder with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

"We (the Cardinals) have always prided ourselves on being a sound defensive team," said Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak. "Hopefully Cesar can help us restore that. We've seen first-hand how important solid defensive play can be to a team's overall performance."

If the Cardinals plan to use their money for other positions, this move might be rationalized. With the off-season still in its early stages, it is difficult to get positively excited about this addition.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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