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Cubs find second baseman in DeRosa

Cubs sign veteran DeRosa

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs completed their starting infield on Tuesday by signing versatile Mark DeRosa to a three-year deal and projecting him as the starting second baseman.

DeRosa, 31, is coming off a career year in which he set highs in batting average (.296), doubles (40), home runs (13), RBIs (74) and games (135). He agreed to a three-year, $13 million contract with the Cubs and was ecstatic to join the team.

"Why wouldn't I want to come to Chicago?" DeRosa said Tuesday. "I've always wanted to come here. When I was in the '03 playoffs with Atlanta, I felt the Cubs had five home games. All the stars aligned, I'm getting a chance to play second base, which is something I wanted to do, and to get to do it in Chicago, one of the best cities, it's perfect."

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DeRosa saw action at second, third, short, and both left and right field for the Texas Rangers last season, and will take over as the starting second baseman, bumping youngsters Ryan Theriot and Ronny Cedeno, who were candidates for the job.

"He's a quality baseball player," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Tuesday of DeRosa. "Our people really like him. We liked him a lot when he wasn't an everyday guy. We look at him in the second base situation as a quality guy there. We're hoping he can do the job for us."

DeRosa had hoped to find a team where he could be an everyday player.

"I definitely wanted to play second," he said. "Chicago gave me a call and a chance to play second. This is it. I told my agent this is where I wanted to go."

Theriot and Cedeno now will have to try to earn one of the backup spots on new Cubs manager Lou Piniella's team.

"We certainly think Ryan Theriot will be in a quality spot to make the ballclub," Hendry said of the right-handed infielder, who batted .328 in 53 games with the Cubs last season. "Lou saw him and liked him. In the end, people will have to play to earn their time.

"Unfortunately, Ronny had a disappointing season," Hendry said of Cedeno, who hit .245 in 151 games. "He had won the job, won it in winter ball, won it in Spring Training. But he had a disappointing second half [and hit .229]. Ronny will have to fight to make the club. There will be jobs open, but he'll have to fight for it."

And Hendry's message to anyone who doesn't win a job?

"If somebody doesn't make it, he'll have to go back to [Triple-A] Iowa and play," Hendry said.

DeRosa could bat anywhere in the lineup, including second, and also can fill in at other positions if needed.

"He does give Lou a lot of options," Hendry said. "But we brought him in to play second base."

A right-handed hitter, DeRosa has compiled a .273 average, 38 homers, 93 doubles and 193 RBIs in his career. A nine-year veteran, his 74 RBIs this season were more than the 73 he totaled in the 2003-05 seasons combined with Atlanta and Texas. DeRosa excelled against southpaws, batting .342 against left-handed pitching. He credited Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo with his offensive turnaround.

"The difference was getting a chance to play on an everyday basis and getting a chance to work with Rudy," DeRosa said of his successful 2006 season. "I owe a lot to him. He's one of the first people I called when I signed. I thanked him for everything. He'll always have a soft spot in my heart. He's a guy I'll go to over the course of the season. We revamped my hitting style and I got to play every day, and it worked out."

DeRosa did drop off in September, batting .208. He says it was a mental problem, not physical.

"I think it was a situation where I'd done well the whole year and really wanted to hit .300 for the season," DeRosa said. "Every time I went oh-for, I was more worried about a number than having fun. When you get eliminated from the postseason, you start worrying about personal goals, not team goals. I don't think I got tired. Maybe I got a little mentally tired."

DeRosa was a shortstop when he came up through the Braves' system but moved to second base when Rafael Furcal arrived. Now, he'll be matched up with shortstop Cesar Izturis, third baseman Aramis Ramirez, and first baseman Derrek Lee in the Cubs infield.

"I love our infield," Hendry said. "I feel great about it. You've got two Gold Glove winners [in Izturis and Lee], a great player at third base and I like our young players."

On Sunday, the Cubs locked up Ramirez to a five-year, $73 million deal, and signed pitcher Kerry Wood to a one-year contract. As for free agent Juan Pierre, Hendry said he was still talking to the center fielder's agent.

"I'm not here to rush him," Hendry said of Pierre. "He chose to go on the market and if I were him, I'd do the same thing."

DeRosa had already talked to Cubs catcher Michael Barrett about being teammates again -- the two had previously played in the Arizona Fall League together -- and sounded as if he'd been a member of the team a lot longer than a few hours on Tuesday.

"I know the Cubs," DeRosa said. "They deserve a winner. Chicago deserves a winner. Especially after '03 and seeing how alive the city was and the fans and how awesome they were -- they deserve it. Hopefully, I can come in there and provide some leadership and character and help."

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

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