Phillies come to terms with Gonzalez

Phillies come to terms with infielder Gonzalez

PHILADELPHIA -- Alex S. Gonzalez officially joined the Phillies on Wednesday, agreeing to a one-year, $750,000 contract, adding another utility infielder and bench player as the Phils ready to head to Clearwater, Fla., for Spring Training in a little more than a week.

The right-handed batter -- not to be confused with Alex L. Gonzalez, who signed with the Red Sox earlier this week -- batted .269 with nine homers and 38 RBIs in 109 games for the Devil Rays in 2005.

The signing reunites Gonzalez, 32, with general manager Pat Gillick, who summoned him to the big leagues with the Blue Jays in 1994. At the time, Gonzalez, then 20, was the youngest player in the Major Leagues.

"This is a guy that has had a lot of success at the Major League level as an everyday player," said Gillick. "He's a professional who will add some much-needed depth to our infield and provide a strong right-handed bat off our bench."

Though known mostly for his glove at shortstop -- he ranks seventh among active shortstops with a .975 career fielding mark and has twice led the league in fielding percentage there (1997 and 2003) -- Gonzalez played 91 games at third base for Tampa Bay last season.

Add in the fact that Abraham Nunez stated 98 games at third last season with the Cardinals, and news of Gonzalez's arrival will do nothing to quiet the whispers that incumbent David Bell's status as a full-time starter is in jeopardy. Bell batted .199 against right-handed pitchers in 2005, and either Gonzalez or Nunez could step in if Bell struggles.

"Third base is Bell's job to lose," said manager Charlie Manuel. "His role hasn't changed. He's the third baseman. I plan on talking to him when we get to Spring Training. He's a professional, and he's not going to give his position up lightly. He's going to fight for his job."

Manuel's words suggest there might be a competition for the third base job, with Bell the early favorite.

"We want to put the best team on the field every day," Manuel said. "If somebody is struggling and somebody else is swinging good, that's how the game is played."

Also in the mix is veteran infielder Tomas Perez, who may be the odd man out. The switch-hitter, who spent six years with the Phillies, hit .233 with no homers last season. He's expected to earn $700,000 for the 2006 season, and he has a club option for 2007 for $800,000 with a $75,000 buyout.

Manuel said Gonzalez, Nunez and Perez also could log time in the outfield this spring and during the season. That becomes more realistic in the wake of the trade of Jason Michaels to the Indians. The Phillies would like to find a fifth outfielder to go with Bobby Abreu, Aaron Rowand, Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino. Non-roster invitee Josh Kroeger may fit into that equation as well.

Of course, as the situation sorts itself out, the Phillies could deal from the excess of utilitymen and net an outfielder.

In the meantime, Manuel will find at-bats for the trio across the diamond, too. First baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley each had issues with southpaws in 2005, so Manuel intends to find at-bats at those positions as well, which would keep the bench sharp and provide rest for the starters.

"It gives us more options," Manuel said. "Nunez is a switch-hitter. Gonzalez is a right-hander with power. This lets us do more things off the bench."

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