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12/27/08 6:35 PM EST
Reds ink Taveras to two-year deal
Center fielder brings speed, stellar defense to Cincinnati
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- In one transaction on Saturday, the Reds believe they met two of their offseason needs.
By signing free-agent speedster Willy Taveras to a two-year contract, Cincinnati now has an experienced leadoff hitter and center fielder heading into 2009. Financial terms of the contract weren't immediately known.
"This was a need we felt we had to try and fill this winter," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "Besides acquiring a catcher in Ramon Hernandez [earlier this month], we have a center fielder that can play good defense and lead off."
Taveras spent the past two seasons with the Rockies and is capable of giving defenses fits when he has a bat in his hands. Since his rookie season in 2005, the 27-year-old leads the Majors with 207 infield hits, accounting for 37 percent of his 558 career hits. He has at least 33 steals in each of the past four seasons.
The 2008 season, however, was a down one for Taveras. In 133 games, he batted .251 with just 18 of his 120 hits going for extra bases despite playing at spacious Coors Field. But he did lead the Majors with 68 stolen bases and a .907 stolen-base percentage (68-for-75).
"If he gets back to being an on-base guy that hits ground balls, it creates a lot of havoc on the bases," Jocketty said. "He can get on base ahead of the big guys, and we can score more runs."
Taveras passed his physical on Saturday prior to the early-afternoon announcement. He cited playing for manager Dusty Baker as one of the attractions to signing with the Reds.
"It's a young team where I can fit well," said Taveras, a .283 career hitter over five seasons with the Astros and Rockies. "I'll come over here and play hard. I'm happy to play for Dusty. It's going to be great. ... I've heard from many guys that played for Dusty that he will let you do what you do well if you play hard and respect the game."
Cincinnati's pursuit of Taveras began almost immediately after he was not tendered a contract by Colorado on Dec. 12.
"We'd like to add another hitter, but if we don't, we have good pitching and defense and speed."
-- Reds GM Walt Jocketty
"I talked to [Taveras and his representatives] the first thing on that Saturday morning. We were their first call," Jocketty said. "It's what impressed them the most."
Taveras' .308 on-base percentage last season and lack of extra-base hits could be a concern for a leadoff hitter. The Reds will count on his finding his form from two seasons ago, when he batted .320 with a .367 on-base percentage over 97 games, as the Rockies went to the World Series.
Reds pro scout Jamie Quirk, who spent the past few seasons as the Rockies' bench coach, endorsed the signing.
"Jamie really likes Willy and thinks he can get back to the type of player he was in 2007, when he bunted more, had more ground-ball hits and used his speed," Jocketty said.
Taveras said that Quirk was helpful for him in Colorado.
"Jamie knows me pretty well, and we got along real well," Taveras said. "He always tells me to stay on top of my game. He knows what kind of talent I have."
More remains on the Reds' offseason wish list. They are still trying to add a right-handed run producer for the heart of the lineup and re-sign utility player Jerry Hairston Jr.
Jocketty has already made progress in other areas by signing free-agent lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes, re-signing righty reliever Mike Lincoln and acquiring Hernandez in a trade with the Orioles.
"With Hernandez and [second baseman] Brandon Phillips and if [shortstop] Alex Gonzalez is back healthy, we've really improved our defense up the middle," Jocketty said.
The Reds now have four outfielders on their 40-man roster in Taveras, right fielder Jay Bruce, Chris Dickerson and Norris Hopper. If they can't add the power hitter they're looking for, Dickerson and Hopper could platoon in left field.
"With Bruce and Taveras, we have two of our outfield spots filled," Jocketty said. "We'd like to add another hitter, but if we don't, we have good pitching and defense and speed. We could find ways to manufacture runs without a big RBI guy."