The St. Louis Cardinals, hoping to improve their infield depth, especially at shortstop, signed once-promising infielder Ronny Cedeno to a one-year, $1.15 million contract.
Cedeno, 30, is an eight-season veteran who batted .259 in part-time duty with the New York Mets last season. He also has played with the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners.
To make room for Cedeno, a .247 lifetime hitter, on the 40-man winter roster, the Cardinals designated left-hander Barret Browning for assignment. The 28-year-old reliever went 1-3 with a 5.12 ERA in 22 games with St. Louis last season.
Cedeno is a career .303 hitter (27-for-89) at Busch Stadium, but general manager John Mozeliak said he envisioned Cedeno not as a regular but as "protection" in case Rafael Furcal's right elbow becomes a problem. Furcal suffered a torn elbow ligament Aug. 30.
The move does not mean that Pete Kozma, who exceeded expectations as a rookie in September and October, will be forced out of the big-league picture. Mozeliak said he could see a scenario where both Cedeno and Kozma would be kept as infield backups.
"We just needed to have some insurance," Mozeliak said, "although clearly Kozma played very well last year."
Cedeno's best season was 2010, when he hit eight homers and batted .256 as Pittsburgh's shortstop. Cedeno made 29 appearances at second base last year for the Mets, and he could be a right-handed complement there to left-handed-hitting Daniel Descalso and even left-handed-hitting Matt Carpenter. A utility man, Carpenter is being eyed as a possible second base option, too.
As a young player with the Cubs, Cedeno was highly touted, but he never quite met expectations.
"He's certainly one of those guys who, when you first watch him, you can see he has athleticism and all those intangibles of a middle infielder -- flashy and quick," Mozeliak said. "From an everyday standpoint, he hasn't been able to hit consistently."