Cards agree to deal with infielder Izturis

ST. LOUIS -- Free-agent infielder Cesar Izturis agreed Friday to a $2.85 million, one-year contract with the Cardinals, a sign St. Louis has decided to abandon trying to re-sign shortstop David Eckstein.

The Cardinals have to decide by Saturday whether to offer arbitration to Eckstein, who has filed for free agency. The two sides were not close in negotiations and general manager John Mozeliak, who said the Cardinals would "probably" cut ties with Eckstein, wanted to make sure a replacement was in place.

"We really feel comfortable that it's the right decision for us, and the clock was ticking," Mozeliak said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "We're trying to put a competitive club out there and Izturis is a guy we've talked about for a lot of years."

Eckstein, the World Series MVP in 2006, has been dogged by injuries the past two seasons. He batted .309 in 117 games last season.

The 27-year-old Izturis won a Gold Glove in 2004 with the Dodgers and was an NL All-Star in 2005. Eckstein combined with Brendan Ryan to play the majority of the games last year at shortstop, a position that accounted for 32 of the team's 76 infield errors.

Izturis will be given a chance to win the shortstop job, Mozeliak said. He has also played second base and third base.

"We have always prided ourselves on being a sound defensive team," Mozeliak said. "Hopefully, Cesar can help us restore that. We've seen firsthand how important solid defensive play can be to a team's overall performance."

The switch-hitting Izturis batted .258 in 110 games last season with the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit .276 with the Pirates after being acquired on July 19.

Izturis has a career batting average of .259. His best offensive season was 2004, when he batted .288 with a career-high 32 doubles, four home runs, 25 steals and 62 RBIs.

In addition to his base salary, Izturis can earn $650,000 in performance bonuses: $100,000 each for 400 and 450 plate appearances and $150,000 each for 500, 550 and 600 plate appearances.

The signing leaves the Cardinals without a clear-cut leadoff man, a role Eckstein filled the last three seasons, given that Izturis is not particularly noted for his speed. Possible options include outfielder Rick Ankiel and second baseman Adam Kennedy.