New Cardinal Ellis joins 'winning organization'
Vet signs one-year deal, knowing he might not start, but can contribute on contender
ST. LOUIS -- Despite overtures from clubs willing to promise more playing time and a more clearly defined role, Mark Ellis said he found himself drawn to an opportunity with the Cardinals that offered an even more appealing guarantee -- the assurance of joining a team built to contend for championships.
Ellis became the Cardinals' latest offseason addition on Monday, when his one-year contract was finalized and announced by the team. Financial terms of the deal were not released by the club. FOX Sports reported that Ellis will earn a $5.25 million base salary, with the possibility of making another $1 million in incentives.
In Ellis, the Cards found a player who offers veteran experience, a right-handed bat off the bench and insurance behind young second baseman Kolten Wong. With the Cardinals, Ellis believes he found a fit for his family and an opportunity to go for a World Series title. He has yet to play in a Fall Classic in his 11-year career.
"It is just a winning organization, the way the organization goes about its business," Ellis said in a conference call with reporters on Monday. "As much as you can tell being on the outside looking in, it's a place that you're always very curious about. ... You can't determine where you're going to go based on if you're going to win the World Series, but you can go there based on who you think has the best chance to win the World Series. I think the Cardinals are in the top three teams as far as that goes."
Ellis added that it would "be fair to say" he chose the Cardinals over other clubs that were ready to give him a chance to be their starting second baseman. When it came to the discussions his agent had with Cards general manager John Mozeliak before, during and after the Winter Meetings, Mozeliak was upfront in that he could make no such promise.
The Cards remain dedicated to giving Wong the first opportunity to stick as the team's starting second baseman. Ellis is not only aware of that plan, but the veteran said he intends to help Wong succeed in whatever way he can.
"I know that Kolten Wong is a favorite of a lot of people in the organization for good reason, because he's a good baseball player," Ellis said. "I'm coming there to be on the 25-man roster. Wherever I play or whatever my role is, that's what I'm going there to do. It may not be defined yet exactly what it is, but it's just being a baseball player. That's what I'm going there to be."
Though Ellis, 36, was already comfortable with the Cardinals' reputation, he did speak to two of his former teammates -- Skip Schumaker and Matt Holliday -- who knew the organization well. Through that vetting process, Ellis' opinion was confirmed.
He will be reunited with Holliday, who played with Ellis in Oakland in 2009, as well as John Mabry. Now the Cardinals' hitting coach, Mabry was a mentor to Ellis when the two were teammates with the A's in 2002. That was Ellis' rookie season.
Ellis comes to St. Louis after career stops in Oakland, Colorado, and most recently, Los Angeles. The Dodgers declined their $5.75 million option on Ellis after the season, which made him a free agent. He is coming off a season in which he hit .270 with a .323 on-base percentage in 126 games. He started 106 of those games at second base, where Ellis is considered an above-average defender.
"Mark is a player we identified early on as being an ideal fit for our team," Mozeliak said in a statement. "His experience and steadiness, both in the field and at the plate, certainly enhances our overall roster makeup."
Mozeliak was not available for further comment. He is scheduled to hold a news conference on Tuesday to discuss the move.
Ellis confirmed that the Cardinals reached out to his agent early on in the free-agent process, much to his surprise. After seeing the success Matt Carpenter had at second base last season, Ellis figured the Cards would not be in the market to add at that position. He later watched as the Cardinals cleared the way for Carpenter to slide to third by trading David Freese.
Ellis said he is open to being used at third base or shortstop, if needed, though he has not yet talked to the Cardinals about the possibility of such plans. Ellis could earn more starting time than expected, too, if Wong struggles out of Spring Training.
"As far as playing time goes, I don't worry about that," Ellis said. "I have pretty much been an everyday player my whole career. I'm preparing this offseason like I'm going to play 162 games. I know the situation going into St. Louis. I know what it's going to be, because they were very honest with me. I also know that it's a winning team, it's a team that wants to win now, it's a team that wants to win a championship. That's what makes St. Louis so attractive for me."
With the Cardinals' search for a right-handed-hitting second baseman now complete, the team appears to be wrapped up with its winter business. Ellis joins Jhonny Peralta, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk and Angel Castro as St. Louis' offseason acquisitions.
"There were some good opportunities with some very good organizations," Ellis said, "but I thought this was the perfect place for myself and my family."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.