Second baseman Ron Belliard came up in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, with a cup of coffee late in the 1998 season. He was a regular from 1999 through 2002, when he moved to the Colorado Rockies for one season. The right-handed hitter has been a Cleveland mainstay since 2004. Originally expected to simply keep the seat warm for then-minor league phenom Brandon Phillips, Belliard took over when Phillips fizzled, was demoted and two years later was traded to the Reds.
Hitting sixth in the Cleveland line-up on Sunday, the 31-year-old is batting .291 after going 2-for-4 in his final at-bats as an Indian. He has eight home runs and 44 RBI on the season. Over his career, Belliard is a .273 hitter with a .340 on-base percentage. The New York native and Domincan Republic resident has only modest speed, as evidenced by his 32 career steals.
Last season, Belliard registered a career-best in home runs, with 17, fourth among American League second baseman. His 78 RBI was also his tops as a major leaguer, good for third at the position in the AL. In 2004, Belliard’s 48 doubles were second-best among all AL players and he was named to his only All-Star team.
He hit in every spot in the line-up other than clean-up in 2005 and has done the same this season except for leading off, which he did regularly as recently as 2004. Generally, Belliard hit seventh for Cleveland in 2006.
In 2005, with the glove, he compiled the fifth best fielding percentage at .981, making just 13 errors in 683 total chances. Belliard has the appearance of a stocky player, but is known as a hustler. Scouts say he has soft hands, quick feet and turns the double play quickly, all components that likely made him appealing to the Cardinals.
Contractually, Belliard has to initially be considered a rent-a-player, unless the Cardinals like him and he likes them enough to re-sign. His current contract, calling for him to make $4 million in 2005, expires after the season.
Belliard has the right to become a free agent this fall if he so chooses. Last off-season, Belliard was designated in the top half of the Type A players in his position grouping (an impressive #10 on the list of all AL players at second, third and shortstop) and I expect he will carry that Type A designation this year, too.
That means that even if he decides to leave the Cardinals, if they offer him arbitration, the Cardinals will receive a first or second-round pick plus a supplemental first-rounder if he signs elsewhere for 2007. That makes this a decent deal for the Cardinals in the present and future.
Hector Luna is heading back to his original organization in return for Belliard. The 26-year-old makes much less in salary, but his inconsistency must have led the Cardinals to believe his future is not as a starter in the major leagues.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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