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

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.