Sign Clark .. er.. Jeff Kent

His first name isn't Clark, but if things fall together for the Dodgers in this off-season, it may just work out that way. General Manager Paul DePodesta employed a preemptive strike by nailing down four-time all-star Jeff Kent before many club representatives had even arrived in Anaheim for the annual winter meetings.

"Jeff has established himself as one of the best offensive players in the game," said DePodesta. "He's a proven run producer with significant postseason experience and we expect him to be a huge part of the Dodgers' offense next season."

Kent, 36, is the all-time leader in home runs as a second baseman (278) and has slugged 302 homers overall in his 13-year career with the Blue Jays, Mets, Indians, Giants and Astros. He is one of just 23 active players with more than 300 career homers and has driven in 1,207 runs and posted a .505 lifetime slugging percentage.

A four-time All-Star, Kent became just the eighth second baseman in Major League history to garner MVP honors when he did so in 2000, as he batted .334 with 33 homers and 125 RBI. Last season, while playing for Houston, Kent batted .289 with 27 homers and 107 runs batted in, marking the seventh time in the last eight years that he has surpassed the 100-RBI mark, including six consecutive seasons from 1997-2002. He joins Tony Lazzeri and Charlie Gehringer, both of whom have been enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as the only second baseman in Major League history with seven 100-RBI seasons.

Having topped the 30-double mark in each of the past eight seasons, Kent has amassed 782 extra-base hits in his career, which ranks 19th among active Major Leaguers. He has driven in 120 runs on three different occasions, becoming the first second baseman to top that plateau since Jackie Robinson had 123 for the Dodgers in 1949.

"Adding Jeff Kent to our lineup not only gives us another major offensive force but it provides me with flexibility in the field," said Dodger manager Jim Tracy. "I've always admired his competitive nature from the opposing dugout and I'm very excited that he's now a member of the Dodgers."

It's homecoming for Kent. The 2000 NL MVP is a native of Bellflower, a Los Angeles suburb, and he attended high school in Huntington Beach. He admitted at the press conference called to announce his signing, "I grew up with my dad taking me to Dodger games."

Planning his signing with the Dodgers to be a surprise for his parents, Alan and Sherry, he had them accompany him to a hotel the day before the annual winter meetings began.

"My parents did not know about this," Kent said with tears in his eyes. "I grew up with my dad taking me to Dodger games. This might be my last turn, so I'm very happy to be a part of the organization."

As a youth he was a fan of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Ron Cey, and no one is quite clear at this time which of their positions he will occupy in Los Angeles.

"I continue to want to be a winner and be on a team that has that potential," Kent said. "Paul has proven to me in this offseason transition for me that this team has that mentality, and that there is more to come, so I'm impressed by that.

"Jim Tracy was able to win last year with no true -- I think -- `franchise player,' but they had a core of players that were just tremendous, full of integrity and full of enthusiasm to play the game."

Kent, an outstanding a second baseman throughout his 13-year career, is willing to play first or third base should the need arise. In his Major League career, Kent has appeared at all four infield positions -- second base (1,537 games), third base (157 games), first base (97 games) and shortstop (three games). He has a .978 career fielding percentage and last season, he ranked fourth among National League second basemen with a .989 mark, having committed just seven errors in 139 games.

"He has definite versatility and affords us tremendous flexibility in the way we approach the off-season," DePodesta said. "He will play somewhere in the infield."

Re-signing third baseman Adrian Beltré remains a huge priority, but there are rumors that he wants a seven-year contract, and his agent, Scott Boras, has 'mentioned' that several teams are very interested.

DePodesta no fan of seven year contracts.

"Signing Kent makes me less concerned about re-signing Beltré", he said. "But we are one of the bidders, and we have ample spending power. This doesn't preclude us from signing Adrian."

The All-Star second baseman agreed to a $17 million, two-year contract with the Dodgers after helping lead Houston to the NL championship series last season. Since the Astros did not offer arbitration, his signing will not cost a draft choice.