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Reds sign shortstop Gonzalez, Stanton

Reds sign shortstop Gonzalez, Stanton

CINCINNATI -- Owners of one of baseball's poorest defenses in 2006, the Reds have almost nowhere else to go but up next season.

Cincinnati found the type of guy they think can help bring some substantial defensive improvement in free agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

On Monday, the Reds finalized a three-year, $14 million contract with Gonzalez that takes them through the 2009 season. It came with a $6 million mutual option for the 2010 season with a $500,000 buyout.

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The Reds also signed free agent reliever Mike Stanton to a two-year, $5.5 million deal that has a vesting option for 2009.

"This all didn't happen today. It's been in the works for a while," Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said Monday afternoon at Great American Ball Park. "When the list comes out, free agent-wise, you try to identify a few guys. We feel very fortunate getting Gonzalez and Stanton. They're two key guys we talked about at our organizational meetings in mid-October."

Gonzalez, 29, batted .255 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs in 111 games while making $2.68 million for the Red Sox last season. He played for the Marlins from 1998-2005 and won a World Series title with Florida in 2003.

The addition of Gonzalez helps address Cincinnati's defensive shortcomings. The club committed 128 errors and owned a .979 fielding percentage -- both were good for second worst in the Major Leagues this past season.

Considered one of the best defensive shortstops available on the market, Gonzalez committed only seven errors in 2006 and owned a .985 fielding percentage. His lifetime fielding percentage is .970.

Gonzalez is scheduled to make $3.5 million in 2007, $4.625 million in 2008 and $5.375 million in 2009. If he wins a Gold Glove Award in either of his first two seasons in Cincinnati, his third-year salary jumps to $5.5 million.

The Gonzalez acquisition puts to rest thoughts of moving talented second baseman Brandon Phillips to shortstop. The two could form one of the stronger middle-infield defenses in the National League and help the pitching staff by making plays.

"We got one of the best shortstops in all of baseball," Reds manager Jerry Narron said from his home in North Carolina. "I've heard he has a great work ethic. I look for him to be a positive influence on [third baseman] Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Phillips. If we get improvement from them, we should have one of the better infields in baseball with three younger guys."

For a Reds club also looking to make offensive upgrades following a decline in run production this past season, Gonzalez isn't expected to be a big boost. He is a career .246 hitter with only a .292 on-base percentage and carries a high strikeout rate.

Gonzalez, a 1999 All-Star as a rookie, set his career high of 23 homers and 79 RBIs for Florida in 2004.

"Too many strikeouts, not enough walks. He can probably cut down on that," Krivsky conceded. "When [hitting coach] Brook Jacoby gets with him at Spring Training, we'll find out how coachable he is. Hopefully, he can make some changes and get a little bit better. We'll take the .260 and 15-20 homers and 60-70 RBIs with that Gold Glove-caliber defense and be real happy."

Gonzalez replaces veteran Royce Clayton, who became a free agent after the season and wasn't expected to return. Clayton came to the Reds as part of a July 13 eight-player trade that sent shortstop Felipe Lopez and outfielder Austin Kearns to the Nationals.

It remains to be seen how the Gonzalez signing will affect the Reds' pursuit of free agent infielder Rich Aurilia. There is no longer an everyday spot open for Aurilia, who was seeking a regular position after he filled multiple roles last season.

"I talked to his agent as late as this weekend," Krivsky said. "We'll see. I wouldn't rule it out."

Krivsky's rebuilding of the Reds bullpen started in midseason and hasn't stopped. With Stanton, Cincinnati is getting a veteran lefty with postseason credentials. The 39-year-old was 7-7 with a 3.99 ERA and eight saves in 82 games last season for the Nationals and Giants. He was dealt to San Francisco on July 28 and finished the year as the closer when Armando Benitez was injured.

With the supply of quality relievers quite short this winter, Stanton was coveted by several teams and said he attracted offers from "six to seven teams."

"The more I looked at the [Reds] roster, the better the roster looked," said Stanton, who will get $2 million in 2007 and $3 million in 2008. "Wayne stepped up and gave me the second year and that was it. It was a situation where it was very early in the free agent process, but it just looked like the right deal to me with the way the team was, the direction the organization is going in. Then you put the second year on top of that. I'm a little closer to home [in New Jersey.]"

Stanton's option for 2009 is $2.5 million, with a buyout of $500,000. If he appears in 140 games over the next two seasons, the option-year salary vests at $2.75 million.

Two of Stanton's saves came against the Reds. But, the club hasn't committed to making him their closer at this point. The closer at the end of last season, free agent Eddie Guardado, is coming off elbow surgery and won't be ready until June at the earliest. David Weathers, who led the team with 12 saves, is also a free agent.

"I'm not going to project roles," Krivsky said. "He's an accomplished guy we like on the team. Whatever role that shakes out, I don't have a crystal ball to be able to tell you who will close more times than not. We have a long ways to go until Spring Training and we'll let that play out. The fact that he has closed is a bonus."

Stanton, who leads all active pitchers with 1,108 career relief appearances and is third all-time, had a career-high 27 saves back in 1993 with Atlanta. He wasn't concerned about what he'd be doing for Cincinnati.

"I'm not a big roles guy," said Stanton, who was also previously a member of the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Mets. "All I really want to do is get the ball and pitch. If it's in the ninth, that's great. If it's not, that's great also, just as long as I get out there as often as I can."

Stanton owns a 2.10 ERA in 53 postseason appearances -- third most all-time. He was part of three straight Yankees World Series winners from 1998-2000 and has a 3-0 record and 1.54 ERA in 20 World Series appearances.

"I'm very pleased," Narron said. "We got a veteran guy in the bullpen that can do everything. He's got great makeup and he's a great competitor."

Mark Sheldon 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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