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Astros declined Kent's option in October

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers got the established run producer they coveted for the middle of their lineup, and Jeff Kent got the team he wanted to play for since he was a boy.

The All-Star second baseman agreed to a $17 million, two-year contract with the Dodgers on Thursday after helping lead the Houston Astros to the NL Championship Series last season. He is eager to help manager Jim Tracy and general manager Paul DePodesta get Los Angeles, which won the NL West last season, to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

"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 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," he said.

It is a homecoming of sorts for Kent, the 2000 NL MVP. He is a native of Bellflower, a Los Angeles suburb, and attended high school in Huntington Beach.

He wanted his signing with the Dodgers to be a complete surprise to his parents, Alan and Sherry, who live in Temecula. They accompanied their son and agent Jeff Klein to a hotel thinking they were just going to rub elbows with a bunch of baseball executives
from around the country on the day before the annual winter meetings began.

"My parents did not know about this," Kent said, choking back tears while his parents did likewise in the front row. "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."

Kent, 36, hit .289 with 27 homers and 107 RBI last season and made the NL All-Star team for the fourth time. He set a club record by hitting in 25 straight games but became a free agent when the Astros declined a $9 million option and opted to pay a $700,000 buyout.

His 278 homers are the most by a second baseman and his seven seasons with 100 RBI tied another mark for the position. He has a .289 career average with 302 homers and 1,207 RBI in 13 seasons.

"To add a player of this caliber to our club is another major step in the right direction. He is a winner," Tracy said. "If you look at his resume and you look at the 'games played' and 'run production' columns, it tells you everything you need to know.

"He's a guy who lives for the big moment and loves to be at the plate when it's time to win or lose a baseball game. Adding Jeff Kent to our lineup not only gives us another major offensive force, but it provides me with flexibility in the field," he said.

The highlight of Kent's 2004 season was a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLCS, putting the Astros within a victory of their first World Series appearance. Houston wnt on to lose the next two games in St. Louis.

"He has a proven history of playing well down the stretch," Klein said. "We spoke to a number of teams who faded or whose hitters had subpar months in August or September."

Kent tied for the major-league lead in homers by a second baseman with 27 last season and had the most RBI at his position. DePodesta's association with Kent stretches back to 1996, when Kent played for Cleveland and DePodesta was a front-office intern with
the Indians.

"Jeff has established himself as one of the best offensive players in the game," DePodesta said. "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's arrival may pose problems for second baseman Alex Cora, who is coming off a breakout season in the field and at the plate. When Kent was signed by the Astros, longtime All-Star second baseman Craig Biggio was shifted to the outfield to accommodate him.

Kent doesn't care where Tracy puts him.

"I play this game with the cliche that if you can hit, they'll find a place for you," Kent said. "I love to hit, I love to swing the bat, and I believe that I'm a great second baseman as well. But I also have the tools that allow me to play first base and third base. So I'm comfortable enough to wait this out and I have no problems with that at all."