Padres sign Eckstein


Published: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 5:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 5:29 p.m.

SAN DIEGO Former Gator David Eckstein figured it was an even swap, taking a huge pay cut for the chance to play second base with the San Diego Padres.

Eckstein, the scrappy infielder who's good at getting on base, agreed to an $850,000, one-year contract with the Padres on Thursday. The MVP of the 2006 World Series while with St. Louis, he can make another $150,000 in performance bonuses.

"The biggest thing the Padres had to offer was the opportunity," Eckstein said during a conference call. "As everyone knows, I wanted to play second base and I wanted to go out there and prove to everybody the second baseman that I am, because that is my natural position."

He made $4.5 million in 2008, when he started out with Toronto before being traded to Arizona on Aug. 31 for a prospect.

"I know they couldn't make the commitment financially, but they could make the commitment with the opportunity to play," Eckstein said. "That was a huge factor in taking this."

Eckstein, who turns 34 on Tuesday, was the starting shortstop on two 100-win teams during his three seasons in St. Louis. He won World Series titles with the Cardinals (2006) and Angels (2002).

He'll join a team that has been in a salary-slashing mode since losing 99 games last season, its worst finish in 15 years. Former Diamondbacks CEO Jeff Moorad is negotiating to buy the Padres, a move precipitated by owner John Moores' divorce from wife Becky.

Eckstein will bring a veteran presence to the middle infield. Luis Rodriguez, who's never played more than 79 games in a season, is the incumbent starting shortstop after Khalil Greene was traded to the Cardinals in December. That move shed $6.5 million from a payroll that the Padres project to be $40 million.

The acquisition of Eckstein will knock Edgar Gonzalez, older brother of Padres All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, into a utility role.

As a rookie in 2001, Eckstein earned a spot in the Angels' opening-day lineup after second baseman Adam Kennedy broke a finger during spring training. He played so well that manager Mike Scioscia moved him to shortstop when Kennedy returned.

Eckstein didn't play second base again until last season, when he played 24 errorless games at second, 23 of them starts. He also made 57 appearances, including 56 starts, at shortstop.

"Coming up my whole life, even in Little League, all the way through the minor leagues, I was a second baseman," he said. "It's something that kind of inside me, I wanted to go out and play my best position and show everybody what I can do. It's actually been a desire within me for a long time. But the situations just have occurred that I was playing shortstop.

"I love it. It feels like home. It feels natural," he added. "That's why I told my agent, 'I want a second baseman job.' With the Padres' opportunity, I was very excited."

The 5-foot-7, 175-pound Eckstein, who hit .265 in 94 games last year, will bat either leadoff or second. He has a career .351 on-base percentage.

Eckstein played for the Angels during Padres manager Bud Black's tenure as that club's pitching coach.

Both Black and general manager Kevin Towers praised Eckstein's work ethic.

"Eck is the ultimate winner," Black said. "First and foremost, he's a good player and he's going to bring an element to our club that we need. Offensively he has a knack to get on base, he's a great handler of the bat. He gets big hits off good pitchers, and again, the way he goes about the daily grind of playing baseball, it's going to be great for our younger service-time players to watch that."

Said Towers: "The enthusiasm and the passion he has for the game of baseball. Anytime you're able to bring a winning-type player into your organization, a guy who's had as much success as this man has had on the field, you immediately make your ballclub better."

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