Felipe Lopez bounded into the St.Louis Cardinals clubhouse following his early morning physical Saturday prepared to work in the batting cage before the rest of the squad took to the fields. He’s just that happy to be back with the Cardinals.
Lopez signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Cardinals, returning him to the team he played for briefly in 2008. Lopez could earn $1.2 million in performance bonuses this season.
“This has been my first choice since I played here in ’08,” Lopez said. “It’s a great organization. I’m proud to be here. They treated me, like always, with open arms.
Lopez hit .385 with four home runs in 43 games after coming to St. Louis from Washington in 2008. Splitting time between Arizona and Milwaukee last year, he hit .310 with nine home runs.
St. Louis General Manager John Mozeliak wanted to give manager Tony La Russa more options in the lineup and infield.
“The idea of why we went down this path was to just give Tony more flexibility in his lineup,” Mozeliak said. “When you look at what Felipe is capable of doing, he really has the ability to play every position on the field other than pitcher and catcher, and he’s a switch hitter.”
Depending on the development of David Freese(notes) and Joe Mather(notes), Lopez could see significant time early at third base. He could also be part of the solution at shortstop if Brendan Ryan(notes) doesn’t recover as quickly as expected from offseason wrist surgery.
“We all thought we were a little thin,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. “We just got a little heftier as far as depth. If he (signed) with us he knew he could play multiple positions and he’s fine with that.”
Following a solid 2009, Lopez expected to be in some team’s camp much earlier than this. Upset by his status, Lopez changed his representation two weeks ago from Scott Boras to Beverly Hills Sports Council.
A first-round selection by Toronto in 1998, Lopez reached the majors with the Blue Jays in 2001 and was an All-Star for Cincinnati in 2005.
“I don’t know that he would have been (available) if we had waited through the weekend,” Mozeliak said. “We either had to do it now or relegate ourselves to, if we thought we needed that left-handed bat somewhere else, we would have had to pursue it in a trade.”
Mozeliak added that Lopez’s attitude during his two-month stretch with the club in 2008 factored in the decision to bring him back.
“I’m excited,” Lopez said. “It’s been tough just waiting around. I hate it. What matters is that I’m here. I’m in a good place with people I can learn a lot from.”