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Musical infielders comes full circle

ST. LOUIS -- David Eckstein agreed Thursday to a $10.25
million, three-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals,
completing a trio of shortstop switches.

Boston started it by luring Edgar Renteria from St. Louis with a
$40 million, four-year contract. Anaheim then chose to cut loose
Eckstein on Monday and give a $32 million, four-year deal to
Orlando Cabrera, who played last season for the Red Sox.

"David was the player we focused on right away after Cabrera
signed," Cardinals assistant general manager John Mozeliak said.
"Given the current free-agent market at shortstop, it pushed
salaries higher, but we still felt this was a value signing for
us."

Eckstein was the second major offseason acquisition for the
Cardinals, who obtained 17-game winner Mark Mulder from the
Athletics on Saturday for two pitchers and a minor league catching
prospect. They still need a second baseman to replace Tony Womack,
who signed a free-agent deal with the Yankees.

General manager Walt Jocketty said the team was leaning toward
signing a free-agent second baseman rather than trading for one.
Among those available are Rey Sanchez, Miguel Cairo, Pokey Reese,
Enrique Wilson and Mark Grudzielanek.

"We're working on it, but I don't think anything will be done
by Christmas," Jocketty said.

St. Louis had considered 40-year-old Barry Larkin for shortstop.

"But once Eckstein became available, he fit our plans short
term and long term," Jocketty said. "It's a good fit for St.
Louis. He's a very good player."

Eckstein, who'll replace Womack in the leadoff slot, said
several teams were interested in him. He chose the Cardinals
because they aggressively pursued him, and because he likes their
chances of returning to the World Series.

"I'm thrilled," Eckstein said. "They have a great nucleus of
guys. That lineup they put out there, you're playing with a bunch
of All-Stars, and it's going to be fun to be a part of it."

Eckstein, 29, was a fan favorite in Anaheim, helping the Angels
win the 2002 World Series title with his spunky play. Cardinals
manager Tony La Russa told him to keep it up.

"Mr. La Russa said just to play my game, be a pest at the plate
and play solid defense," Eckstein said during a telephone
interview.

He hit .276 with two homers and 35 RBI last season, and scored
92 runs. He was the second-hardest player to strike out in the AL,
with just 49 in 566 at-bats.

Eckstein had a career-best 18-game hitting streak last season
and led major league shortstops with a .988 fielding percentage,
committing just six errors.

"He addresses two of our needs, that of a shortstop and leadoff
hitter," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "David also has a
style of hard-nose play that we feel will fit in well in St.
Louis."

Eckstein and the Angels played an interleague series in St.
Louis in June 2002, a time of sorrow for the franchise. The team
was in town for a memorial service for broadcaster Jack Buck and
faced the late Darryl Kile in his last start. Kile died three days
later of a coronary blockage.

"It's kind of weird, two unfortunate events," Eckstein said.
"It was a pretty emotional time, but you saw how the community
rallied. It was a great sight."