Nats sign Belliard to Minor League deal

Nationals sign Belliard to Minor League deal

VIERA, Fla. -- Looking to strengthen their bench, protect themselves in case of an injury to starting shortstop Cristian Guzman and help themselves for the trade deadline, the Nationals signed Ronnie Belliard to a non-guaranteed Minor League contract on Sunday. If he makes the 25-man roster, Belliard will make $750,000, plus incentives.

Belliard, a right-handed hitter, played with the Indians and Cardinals in 2006 and hit a combined .272 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs. He was instrumental in the Cardinals' postseason run to the World Series. Belliard made $4 million last season. The 31-year-old is a career .272 hitter in nine seasons with the Brewers, Rockies, Indians and Cardinals.

Belliard is the leading candidate to back up third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and second baseman Felipe Lopez. And if Guzman is not ready to play shortstop or is unproductive with the bat, Belliard could start at second with Lopez moving back to short. Billiard also could be used as trade bait in case the Nationals want to acquire a prospect.

"I think there is no doubt second base is [Belliard's] best position, and he can also play first base," general manager Jim Bowden said. "[He has] a good bat.

"It gives us protection in the middle, flexibility in the middle, depth. It gives us a piece like last year. With Daryle Ward, Marlon Anderson and Royce Clayton, we were able to trade [them] at some point later in the year to get Jhonny Nunez, Luis Atilano and Ryan Wagner. We got three young arms [by] having that depth."

The Nationals are aware that Belliard was involved in controversy after the 2006 season. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, George Edwards tried to extort money from Belliard. The paper said that Edwards tried to get $150,000 from Belliard in order to keep quiet about an extramarital affair Belliard allegedly had with his daughter.

"We are satisfied what came out of the Commissioner's Office," manager Manny Acta said. "[Belliard] is clean."

For now, Belliard will compete with D'Angelo Jimenez, Jose Macias, Josh Wilson and Tony Womack for the backup role in the infield. While Belliard had a productive 2006, Williams, Macias, Wilson and Womack haven't been major contributors in recent years.

Acta is familiar with Belliard. The two worked together for the Licey Tigers in the Dominican Winter League and the World Baseball Classic. Acta was the manager and Belliard was his third baseman.

Acta said he spoke to Belliard recently and informed him of his role on the team.

"It's a great signing," Acta said. "It gives us depth up the middle -- big-time. He could fix either one of the problems. If Guzman goes down, we could move Lopez to short. If Lopez goes down, Belliard can step in and be the everyday guy, because that is what he has been doing for years in the big leagues.

"I know he would like to play every day, but that's not the case here. He is coming here to be a backup guy. I'll try to find him at-bats, and he understood the points. Obviously, he is a guy who is going to compete, but he is ahead of [the other backups]. The numbers are there. This guy hit [.272] last year and played in the World Series, and he has the track record."

Belliard is expected to arrive at Nationals camp on Tuesday.

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