WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Ronnie Belliard picked a bad time to be a free agent.

While the winter market was flush with big bucks, it was also flush with second basemen. So by the time Belliard finally landed with a club, it was with a Minor League deal with the Washington Nationals, three days into Spring Training camp.

It seemed an odd fate for a man who was an All-Star for the Indians just three years ago and who had helped St. Louis win a World Series title in October.

"Things happen in baseball," said Belliard, who returned to Chain of Lakes Park for Friday's scheduled game against the Tribe. "Anything can happen, and that's why it's a great sport."

Though he came to Nationals camp as a non-roster invitee, Belliard is assured of a job. He'll bounce around all the infield positions -- yes, even shortstop and first base -- for manager Manny Acta's club.

Of course, he'd rather be an everyday guy than a utility man, but Belliard still sees himself getting plenty of playing opportunities in the National League.

"You can pinch-hit, you can do the double-switch," he said. "I'm gonna have my chances here."

Belliard wasn't given a chance to resume his starting second-base role with the Cardinals, who had acquired him from the Indians for Hector Luna shortly before July's trading deadline.

His time with the Cardinals ended with baseball's greatest prize, but Belliard didn't have the smoothest of tenures in St. Louis. After batting .291 with eight homers and 44 RBIs in 93 games with the Tribe, he hit just .237 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 54 regular-season games with the Cards.

Belliard did, however, play a fundamentally sound second base. And in the playoffs, he had six hits in the four-game National League Division Series against the Padres and six hits in the seven-game NLCS against the Mets.

At the time they traded him, the Indians had said they would consider renewing ties with Belliard. Alas, their Nov. 8 trade to acquire Josh Barfield from San Diego nullified their interest.

Belliard thought, perhaps, the Cardinals would be interested in keeping him around with a multiyear deal. But they weren't biting.

"When you're an everyday player and you help a team to be in the playoffs," he said, "you expect it to be the same thing [the next year]. But things didn't work out."

His cause wasn't aided when news broke of an extortion attempt made against him by a St. Louis man. But Belliard, while declining to discuss the case, said he doesn't believe that affected him in free agency.

Belliard's history with Acta led to him landing in Washington. Acta was Belliard's manager the past three years in the Dominican Winter League.

"He knows I can play shortstop, third base and second base," Belliard said. "So I feel happy here."

The 31-year-old Belliard was just as happy during his time with the Indians, who took a chance on him in '04 and saw him emerge as a productive and popular second baseman. In 393 games with the Indians, he hit .285 with 38 homers, 87 doubles and 192 RBIs.

And though he played an unusually deep second base -- playing what can best be described as a shallow right field -- Belliard was a reliable glove.

"He played hard," manager Eric Wedge said. "He got after it and did a good job for us here. It was outstanding for him and his career."

He also made quite a few friends along the way.

"I enjoyed myself with those guys [in Cleveland]," Belliard said. "I saw them all come up. They weren't all All-Star players when I got there. I saw Victor [Martinez], [Travis] Hafner, Grady [Sizemore] and all those guys come up. It's always sad when you spend two and a half years with guys and get traded. But we grow up, and we know it's a job."

Belliard, who will make $750,000 this season, didn't stay sad for long, for the trade that sent him from a place he had grown comfortable also delivered him to a championship club.

"No one was expecting us to win our division, and look what happened," Belliard said of the Cardinals. "We played good enough to beat everybody."

Soon enough, he'll have the ring to prove it, whenever it arrives in the mail. And where most players might put their Series ring in a safe-deposit box, Belliard will wear it proudly.

"I think it's a dream to be in the World Series," he said. "I'm going to wear my ring. I deserve it."