Cubs sign Perez to two-year deal

Cubs sign Perez to two-year deal

CHICAGO -- Neifi Perez, who filled in admirably for three months when Nomar Garciaparra was injured, has agreed to terms on a two-year contract with the Chicago Cubs through the 2007 season.

Perez signed for $5 million -- $2.5 million each year -- with no guarantees that he'll be a starter, even though Garciaparra has filed for free agency and is unlikely to re-sign with the Cubs.

"I'm going to be there like last year," Perez said Tuesday. "It depends on what Dusty [Baker, Cubs manager] and the general manager [Jim Hendry] want to do with me. I think I showed them I can play every day. I can't worry -- they have to decide who they're going to play at short, who they're going to play at second. I'm going to be there."

The Cubs are believed to be interested in free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal, who is a good friend of Perez's. The two are represented by the same agent, and the players talked Monday night.

"I told him I will be happy if he comes to the Cubs," Perez said of Furcal. "I know what he can do to make the team win. When you've got a guy like him at the top of the lineup, a lot of things can happen. Out of five at-bats, he'll be on base two or three times."

Perez, 32, batted .274 with nine homers and 54 RBIs in 154 games in 2005. His biggest hit was a grand slam in the 10th inning on July 24, which lifted the Cubs to an 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I'm so happy. You don't even know how happy I am," Perez said. "I know I've got more than three years to play baseball. My body tells me that. I think [a two-year deal] is good enough. I enjoyed last year. I was hoping to stay in Chicago and that's why I'm so happy right now."

He was released by the San Francisco Giants in 2004 after batting .232 in 103 games, then signed with the Cubs as a Minor League free agent in August 2004. Since then, he has batted .284 in 177 games with 38 doubles, 11 homers and 60 RBIs. The utility infielder has seen action at short, second and third.

One other option the Cubs have at shortstop is young Ronny Cedeno, who is playing for the Aragua Tigres in Venezuela this winter. Cedeno batted .300 in 41 games with the Cubs before he was hit on the hand by a pitch Sept. 10, and sidelined for the rest of the season. In Venezuela, he is batting .278 in five games with two doubles.

"He's good. He's going to get better," Perez said of Cedeno. "He impressed me. I think he can play in the big leagues. Sometimes the manager goes for the veteran guys, and I'm going to be there. Any way I can help them out, I'll help them out. Any questions they ask me, I'll do it the right way. I just want to win. Let's play together and win games."

A Gold Glove winner in 2000 with Colorado, Perez was pressed into regular duty when Garciaparra injured his groin on April 20. He continued to play short late in the season when Garciaparra moved to third to make up for the loss of Aramis Ramirez.

Perez began his career with the Rockies, and was traded to Kansas City in 2001. He batted .236 the next season with the Royals and admitted it was a struggle.

"I played bad in Kansas City because my heart wasn't there," Perez said. "It was tough to play in San Francisco. If you go 1-for-4, you have to go 2-for-2 every day to play in San Francisco. When I was struggling [with the Cubs], I was hitting the ball hard and [Baker] didn't sit me. I think I was 1-for-27 and [Baker] gave me the confidence to get out of that slump.

"When I came to Chicago, everything was different -- the manager, the organization. I was happy there, I was happy with my manager. I was happy with everybody. I think that makes a lot of difference."

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