Belliard bypasses free agency by agreeing to extension
WASHINGTON -- Infielder Ronnie Belliard and the Washington Nationals agreed Monday to a $3.5 million, two-year contract extension through the 2009 season, a veteran building block for a club trying to improve.
"They have a good thing going here," the 32-year-old Belliard said by telephone from Philadelphia, where the Nationals open a series Tuesday. "Those young guys -- they want to win."
He is second on the club with a .305 batting average and has five homers, 18 doubles and 29 RBIs. Belliard has appeared in 85 of Washington's 98 games, making 62 starts -- 54 at second base, four at first, three at shortstop, one at third.
"We like Ronnie very much. He's been a great contributor for us, whether as the starting second baseman or the best utility player in the game," general manager Jim Bowden said. "Whether he's a starter or not, we feel he'll be a positive contributor to our future."
Belliard signed a minor league deal with the Nationals at the start of spring training and made the club as a backup. But he began starting occasionally, then took over for good at second base last month, when shortstop Cristian Guzman had a season-ending injury last month, and Felipe Lopez shifted from second to shortstop.
"He has a good work ethic. He cares about winning," Bowden said. "We all saw what he did with the Cardinals last year."
In 2006, Belliard was traded from Cleveland to St. Louis -- and wound up winning a World Series championship.
That's the Nationals' stated goal, with an eye to the future and their new ballpark, which is scheduled to open at the start of the 2008 season.
"I like the city and I like the team. I like to be around those guys," Belliard said. "They have a plan for next year. They're going to have a new stadium, and we'll have some success."
Belliard, who would have been eligible for free agency after the season, is due to make $1.6 million in 2008 and $1.9 million in 2009.
He had a $750,000 base salary this year and can earn $750,000 in performance bonuses, getting the full amount if he has 140 games played, 140 starts and 650 plate appearances.
A career .274 hitter with 85 homers, 265 doubles and 468 RBIs over 10 seasons with five clubs, Belliard was a 2004 AL All-Star with the Indians.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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