Cubs sign Ward to one-year deal
Backup first baseman brings pinch-hitting expertise to Chicago
CHICAGO -- The Cubs secured a backup first baseman and outfielder as well as a left-handed bat all in one on Friday when they signed free agent Daryle Ward to a one-year contract with a mutual option for the 2008 season.
"We felt he was the best pinch-hitter in the league last year," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said of Ward, who signed for a base salary of $1 million. "He can still hit the fastball, which is huge. You have to be able to send somebody off the bench who can hit the hard stuff. Most people who are setup guys and closers are hard-throwing guys. Daryle did that well. We felt we were a little right-handed heavy anyhow. It's a good piece of the puzzle."
Ward, 31, led Major League pinch-hitters with 17 RBIs and a .645 slugging percentage last season, and his four pinch-hit homers were tied with Cincinnati's Javier Valentin for the most in the Majors. He batted .355 off the bench, fourth best among pinch-hitters last season. Being a pinch-hitter isn't easy.
"Mainly, it's attitude -- having a better attitude for each at-bat to make the best of it," Ward said on Friday. "Pinch-hitting is a hard thing to do. If you go into it with a negative mind frame, it'll be even worse. I just think I can do the job no matter what the situation is."
Ward hit .308 overall in 98 games for the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, and he hit .371 with runners in scoring position.
He was batting .308 (32-for-104) in 78 games for the Nationals when he was traded to Atlanta on Aug. 31 in exchange for right-hander Luis Atilano. Ward hit .308 in 26 at-bats for the Braves.
Ward will be reunited with Alfonso Soriano, who was his teammate on the Nationals. What can fans expect of Fonzie?
"He's real loud in the clubhouse," Ward said of the Cubs' $136 million outfielder. "He likes for everyone to know he's around. For me, I'm the kind of guy who looks around and watches. He brings excitement to the game. He's real fast, has a lot of power. There's no telling how many home runs this guy can hit in Chicago. If he gets good days with the wind blowing out and a fly-ball [pitcher], he'll be very exciting to watch.
"I enjoyed all the games I got to see -- and not only watching him hit home runs, but steal bases and stretch doubles into triples," Ward said.
Ward had considered other teams, but he picked the Cubs. His new manager, Lou Piniella, is the former skipper of his father, Gary Ward.
"You've got a good team put together here, and in the city, there's Cubs fans everywhere," Ward said. "I just thought it would be a good spot for me. I'm a guy who can swing the bat, and Wrigley [Field] is a good hitters' park. It's also good to get a chance to be managed by Lou Piniella."
Gary Ward has yet to give his son any tips on his new skipper.
"I like Chicago," Daryle Ward said. "It has a place that you have to adjust to in order to hit well. With the amount of games I'll have [at Wrigley Field], it'll be better to see the ball."
Ward once hit a home run into the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. He joked he was a young kid back then, but he's only 31 now.
"There's a difference between 31 and 25," he said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.