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Cubs, infielder Perez agree to two-year $5M deal

CHICAGO -- Infielder Neifi Perez and the Chicago Cubs agreed
Tuesday to a $5 million, two-year contract.

"I did my job last year, and I was hoping to stay in Chicago,"
Perez said during a conference call. "I'm so happy right now."

The 32-year-old Perez, who became a free agent Oct. 31, hit .274
with nine homers and 54 RBI last season. He had 44 multihit games
and hit in 14 straight from May 23 to June 5. Since signing with
the Cubs as a minor league free agent in August 2004, Perez has hit
.284 with 38 doubles, 11 homers and 60 RBIs in 177 games. The
versatile infielder has started 130 games at shortstop and 19 at
second base during that span.

Exactly where Perez fits in next season remains to be seen.

"We're a long way from opening day," general manager Jim
Hendry said. "Obviously, Neifi had a terrific year. He's a way,
way, way above average defender and I think an important part of
the ballclub no matter what his role is. To start defining roles in
November ... that would be kind of foolish to project who's going
to play what and where."

The Cubs are expected to make a run at Atlanta Braves free-agent
shortstop Rafael Furcal and give Ronny Cedeno a shot at regular
time at shortstop or second after he batted .300 in 41 games. The
Cubs also exercised their option on second baseman Todd Walker for
next season.

And free-agent slugger Nomar Garciaparra, who missed 3½ months
after injuring his groin on April 20, could be in the mix. Hendry
said he plans to speak to Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, this
week.

A five-time All-Star and two-time AL batting champion with
Boston, Garciaparra batted .283 with nine homers and 30 RBI last
year, his first full season with the Cubs. Normally a shortstop, he
played 34 games at third base, his first major league action there.

Perez didn't seem too concerned about his role.

"I think I showed them that if they put me in, I can play
everyday," said Perez, the Cubs' primary shortstop last season.
"I can't worry about things that are out of my hands."

Perez said he would welcome Furcal. They are represented by the
same agent, and Perez apparently made a recruiting pitch Monday
night.
"I told him I would be happy if he comes to the Cubs because I
know what he can do to make the team win," Perez said. "When
you've got a guy like Furcal at the top of your lineup, a lot of
things happen."

Furcal would give the Cubs a productive leadoff hitter,
something they lacked last season, but the Braves hold exclusive
negotiating rights through Thursday.

"He's had a great career there," Hendry said. "He's earned
the right to make a decision of whether to stay or leave. I'm not
privy to what his thought process is. He's a great player and if he
chooses not to go back, then we certainly would have some
interest."

Perez had a $1 million base salary this year and earned an
additional $1.5 million in bonuses based on plate appearances.