Cards ink Kennedy, Wells, two others
Catcher Bennett returns; Marrero agrees to Minor League deal
ST. LOUIS -- In each of the past two years, David Eckstein has spent Spring Training getting to know a new double-play partner. This time around, the get-acquainted period should take about long enough for a handshake and a friendly hug.
Adam Kennedy signed a three-year deal on Tuesday to play second base for St. Louis, reuniting him with Eckstein, his old Anaheim teammate. The 30-year-old keystone minder spent the past seven seasons as an Angel, four of those with Eckstein as the man to his right.
"Any time you have a middle-infield combination where you're comfortable, it's going to make it that much easier," Kennedy said. "What a great teammate. You guys [in St. Louis] know what kind of teammate he is and how he plays the game, and it's an honor to play beside him."
The Cardinals also filled another of the openings on their roster on Tuesday, signing right-hander Kip Wells to take one of the vacant spots in their starting rotation. Wells, 29, was most recently a Texas Ranger but is best known to the Cardinals from four-plus years pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
That means three down and two to go in the starting rotation. Wells joins Chris Carpenter and Anthony Reyes on a starting staff that still has two vacancies. The right-hander, who signed for a reported $4 million plus incentives, could turn out to be a canny signing if he regains his form from 2002-03.
"Kip is a pitcher that we've had our eye on for a while, and I can tell you that [pitching coach] Dave Duncan is especially happy with this move," said general manager Walt Jocketty. "For years, Dunc has tried to persuade me to acquire Kip Wells at some point, so we finally have done that."
Additionally, Gary Bennett re-upped for another year backing up Yadier Molina behind the plate, and former Cardinal Eli Marrero agreed to a Minor League deal. Bennett's deal features a mutual option for 2008. Marrero, who came up as a catcher, has been a utility man in recent years but will come to big-league Spring Training primarily as a catcher.
Kennedy is coming off a subpar offensive year by his standards, hitting .273/.334/.384 (average/on-base percentage/slugging) in 139 games for the Angels. Over the previous four seasons, however, he was a plus offensively at second, providing four straight years with OBPs of .344 or better and slugging .399 or better in three of those years.
His deal is worth a reported $10 million, almost identical to the one Eckstein signed in December 2004. Kennedy said that it didn't take much of a sales pitch to get him to come back to his old stomping grounds.
"There's not really one needed," he said. "The respect I have for everybody here never left. So to need a pep talk or anything, it wasn't necessary. The fact that David would like to play with me again and thought it was a good fit was good enough."
For his career, Kennedy is a .280 hitter with a .332 on-base percentage, .398 slugging, 52 homers, 447 runs scored and 369 RBIs. He's stolen at least 15 bases in each of the past five seasons. The lefty-swinging infielder was drafted in the first round by the Cardinals in 1997, but sent to Anaheim in the spring of 2000 in the deal that made Jim Edmonds a Cardinal.
Jocketty didn't rule out further moves on the offensive side, but he said that he would be willing to take his current group of position players to Spring Training if need be.
"I wouldn't say there isn't anything we would do to try to improve the offense, but right now if we had to go to camp with the club we have, I think position-wise we're pretty well set," the GM said.
Wells, like Kennedy, signs after a year that wasn't his best, but as recently as 2003, he was an above-average starter. He missed most of 2006 with a blood clot in his shoulder, finishing the year with a 6.50 ERA in just nine starts. He also was sidelined with a lisfranc strain in his left foot, adding up to an extremely frustrating year.
For his career, Wells is 57-74 with a 4.46 ERA in 197 games (177 starts). In 2002 and 2003, he posted ERAs well under 4.00 as a member of the Pirates.
"For me, coming into this whole situation, you make a list of places that you'd look to have the most chance for success and to go out there and put a good product on the field," Wells said. "St. Louis was at the top of my list. To have it work out the way it has, and for all of us to look forward to this upcoming season, I think it was the right place and the right time for me."
The signing of Wells at something of a cut-rate price means that St. Louis may yet add two more free-agent starters.
Bennett, 34, returns to St. Louis after putting up a .223/.274/.331 line in 2006. Marrero, 33, has played for Atlanta, Kansas City, Baltimore, Colorado and the New York Mets since he was sent to the Braves in a trade with J.D. Drew that brought in Jason Marquis, Adam Wainwright and Ray King.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.