Cardinals sign Girardi, reach deals with Marrero, Stephenson

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- When the Cardinals and San Francisco Giants courted him three years ago, catcher Joe Girardi instead chose the Chicago Cubs, largely citing family reasons and a desire to return home to Illinois.

Girardi was a free agent again last week and St. Louis again came calling, making another pitch for the 14-year veteran. Only this time around, the Cardinals landed their man with a little recruiting help from Cardinals first baseman Tino Martinez, a former Girardi teammate.

"Tino told me St. Louis would be a great place to play," Girardi said Tuesday night.

No stranger to Cardinal tradition as a Peoria, Ill., native, the 38-year-old Girardi hopes to become part of it next season, having agreed to a one-year, roughly $750,000 deal announced Tuesday.

"It would be a great place to finish my career," said Girardi, who spent seven years with the Cubs and four with Martinez and the New York Yankees, holding a roster spot on the Bronx Bombers' title-winning teams of 1996 and 1998-99.

"Just looking from the outside, I always believed St. Louis was a great organization. There's great tradition and the way the town embraces the team is very special," said Girardi, ready to add Busch Stadium to Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium as the "great places" he has called home.

"As a player I don't think you could ask for better," said Girardi, father of a 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. "And my children get another chance to see another great ballpark. There was no doubt in my mind that St. Louis would always be a great place to play."

Girardi, a member of the NL's 2000 All-Star team, became expendable last month when the Cubs acquired All-Star Damian Miller from the Arizona Diamondbacks for two minor leaguers. The Cubs declined to offer arbitration to Girardi, who said he left on great terms.

"I don't think you can be mad at a club for wanting to go in a different direction," said Girardi, who during the past two seasons was the Cubs' co-captain. "I've had this happen to me more than once."

The Cardinals also said Tuesday that outfielder-catcher Eli Marrero has agreed to a two-year, $4.5 million contract. Right-hander Garrett Stephenson also signed a one-year deal worth $800,000, taking a $100,000 pay cut.

Girardi batted .226 in 90 games with the Cubs last season. In 1,261 career major-league games, he has hit .267 with 36 home runs and 421 RBIs.

In St. Louis, Girardi expects to play behind starter Mike Matheny. The Cardinals have declined to offer arbitration to reserve catcher Mike DiFelice.

The Cardinals may already have some affinity for Girardi. After St. Louis pitcher Darryl Kile was found dead of heart disease in the team's Chicago hotel room last June, Girardi took to a Wrigley Field microphone and told the crowd the day's game had been called off.

Girardi said there had been a "tragedy in the Cardinals' family," and he asked fans to pray for the Cardinals' organization.

"To this day, it's still hard for me to think about," Girardi said Tuesday. "It was definitely the toughest day of my baseball career. To this day, I don't know how the Kile family, the Cardinals and their city got through that. I can't imagine how they got through."

To Girardi, Kile's death simply hit too close to home.

"We're all in hotels all the time and we all seem healthy," Girardi said. "Having young children myself and imagining not being able to spend time with them, and thinking if my wife was alone" would be unimaginable.

Marrero, 29, had career bests last season with 18 home runs, 66 RBIs and a .262 average. He played 106 games in the outfield and 44 behind the plate.

Stephenson, sidelined most of the past two seasons with elbow and hamstring injuries, went 2-5 with a 5.40 ERA in 12 appearances in 2002. Stephenson, 30, won a career-best 16 games in 2000 and has a 32-26 career mark.

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