Lopez did everything possible to return
Newly signed infielder arrives, discusses love of St. Louis
JUPITER, Fla. -- How's this for a successful offseason: the Cardinals accomplished both Plan A and part of Plan B.
St. Louis signed free-agent infielder Felipe Lopez to a one-year deal on Saturday. He worked out with his new team, even taking live batting practice on his first day in uniform. A No. 8 Cardinals jersey awaited him when he arrived at the clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium.
"I didn't want to keep wasting time at my house when I could be here," said Lopez, who also spent the last two months of the 2008 season with the Cardinals. "I've wanted to be here for a long time. I've made a lot of changes, and it's going great so far."
Lopez had been working out at his Orlando-area home, so it was a short drive down to Jupiter on Friday night as the deal became imminent.
General manager John Mozeliak disputed an early report that Lopez would make $1.75 million in base salary this year, though he did not disclose what Lopez will make. FOXSports.com reported that Lopez will receive $1 million guaranteed, with the opportunity to make $1.2 million more in incentive bonuses.
A veteran of nine Major League seasons, Lopez can play several positions. He spent the vast majority of his time at second base in 2009, but more than half of his career appearances have come at shortstop. Lopez has also played third base, outfield and even made one appearance at first base.
"I like to be in the lineup," Lopez said when asked his best position. "I don't care."
Manager Tony La Russa and Mozeliak both said that they do not envision Lopez as a challenger to be the Cardinals' everyday third baseman, a job for which David Freese appears to be the leading candidate.
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"I really don't [expect that] at this time," Mozeliak said. "I think the idea of why we went down this path was to just give Tony more flexibility in his lineup. When you look at what Felipe is capable of doing, he really has the ability to play every position on the field other than pitch or catch, and [he is] a switch-hitter. So it's really about flexibility."
St. Louis has several needs on offense, nearly all of which Lopez can help fill. He offers insurance at shortstop in case Brendan Ryan's recovery from wrist surgery progresses slowly, and at third base in case Freese doesn't emerge as hoped or Joe Mather is not healthy. He also potentially provides outfield depth for a team with only three experienced Major League outfielders.
Perhaps most of all, he adds left-handed lineup depth to a team that is extremely heavy on right-handed hitters. Against right-handed pitchers, he joins Skip Schumaker and Colby Rasmus in hitting from the left side.
"I go to every team not expecting anything," Lopez said. "I think if you perform well and you do good, you cannot be ignored. So I'm coming here just working hard and doing what I do."
For most of the winter, the Cardinals remained in contact with Lopez's agents -- first the Scott Boras Corporation, and more recently the Beverly Hills Sports Council. But without a full-time job to offer, and little desire to tender a multiyear contract to Lopez, the club moved slowly. More recently, as the market continued to be slow for Lopez, his price came down.
That meant it finally worked out -- good news for Lopez, who has had a fondness for the Cardinals and the city of St. Louis since his last stint with the club.
"I knew who I wanted to play for," Lopez said. "This has been my first choice since I played here back in '08. It's a great organization. I'm glad to be here. They treated me, like always, with open arms. It's just positive around here."
Mozeliak allowed on Saturday that Lopez was part of the oft-discussed "Plan B" that the Cardinals would have executed if they had not been able to re-sign Matt Holliday. The idea was that if Holliday's services could not be retained, the Cards might upgrade their club at multiple positions with the money that instead went to Holliday.
"When you look back at the timeframe of this, we were still working on Matt Holliday," Mozeliak said. "I didn't envision us doing something long-term with another position player unless we knew we weren't getting Matt. Early on in the free-agent process, we definitely had some discussions with [Lopez's] former representation. But it never really had a lot of traction at that point."
Lopez will turn 30 in May. He signed with St. Louis in August 2008 after he was released by Washington, and took advantage of that opportunity to rejuvenate his career. He hit .385 and slugged .538 in 43 games as a member of the Cardinals. Lopez split the 2009 season between Arizona and Milwaukee, hitting .310 with a .383 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage in 151 games.
His tenure in Washington was not especially successful, but since leaving the Nationals, Lopez has been a force. In 181 games (760 plate appearances) since his release, Lopez batted .325 with a .392 OBP and a .450 slugging percentage. He scored 118 runs during that span.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.