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02/05/09 4:39 PM EST

Ward, Jones agree to Minors deals

Veteran sluggers could add pop and depth to Reds bench

CINCINNATI -- Shoring up the bench was a final offseason item the Reds wanted to check off before heading south for Spring Training next week.

On Thursday, they essentially took a no-risk gamble on two veterans by signing outfielder Jacque Jones and pinch-hitting specialist Daryle Ward to Minor League contracts with invitations to big league camp.

"Talking with [manager] Dusty [Baker], we wanted to strengthen our bench with experienced guys and guys with good character that would fit our club and contribute," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "We're bringing them to camp and basically letting them compete for the last couple of spots."

Jones, who had his best years with the Twins from 1999-2005, played for Baker on the Cubs in 2006 and could be a nice find if he can return to his previous form.

Last season, Jones batted .147 in a combined 42 games with the Tigers and Marlins. He was cut by both teams and did not play any games after June 17.

In 2002 with Minnesota and 2006 with Chicago, Jones hit a career-high 27 home runs. Although he's had a high strikeouts-to-walks ratio over his 10-year career, he is a .277 lifetime hitter and can play all three outfield spots. The 33-year-old has also played in 21 postseason games with the Twins and Cubs.

"Jacque is a guy that had an off year last year but was a pretty good player prior to that," Jocketty said.

This winter, the left-handed-hitting Jones played winter ball in Mexico and batted .314 (37-for-118) with three homers, 15 RBIs and a .349 on-base percentage in 29 games.

"He went to Mexico to work on some things," Jocketty said. "For a guy to do that with his experience in the big leagues, willing to make that sacrifice, that shows he's hungry and looking for an opportunity."

Ward, also a left-handed hitter, has been primarily a pinch-hitter the past two seasons with the Cubs. In 2007, he hit a career best .327 with a .436 on-base percentage. Last season, he dipped to a .216 average and .319 OBP in 89 games.

Hot Stove
With 11 career pinch-hit homers, Ward is tied for fourth among active Major Leaguers. Over his 11-season career with the Astros, Dodgers, Pirates, Braves, Nationals and Cubs, he is a .263 career hitter and has appeared in 11 postseason games.

"Daryle has done a lot of pinch-hitting and knows his role," Jocketty said. "He's capable of playing at first base and could play left field."

Although there are nearly 100 free agents still seeking teams on the market, Jocketty indicated the Reds would not make any more last-minute additions before camp opened on Feb. 14.

"I'm still getting a lot of calls from agents," Jocketty said. "We exceeded our limit on the number of players we wanted to bring to camp, but you want to have the right people that can help. We'll see."

One other situation pending is the signing of third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, the last remaining Reds player eligible for arbitration. Assistant GM Bob Miller has been the point-man for the club in negotiations and had talks as recently as Wednesday with Encarnacion's agent.

Encarnacion is seeking $3.7 million while the club offered $2.55 million.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.