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Astros land Kent; Biggio to move to outfield

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is happy to be Houston's new second baseman. The man he's displacing seems to agree. Kent, the power-hitting second baseman who helped lead the San Francisco to this year's World Series, culminated five days of intense talks by signing an $18.2 million, two-year contract with Houston on Wednesday. Kent will play second, general manager Gerry Hunsicker said, meaning , a four-time Gold Glove winner at the position, will head to the outfield. The problem is, the were unable to contact Biggio during negotiations because he was on a hunting trip. Late Wednesday night, Biggio told the Houston Chronicle he applauded the decision to improve the team, even if it meant a new role. "I've always said getting to the World Series is the ultimate goal," Biggio said. "If we're getting the final person to get there, and I make the final catch in center field to win the World Series, I'm fine." Hunsicker called the deal the biggest for Houston since the signed Nolan Ryan in 1979. The team has never reached the World Series since joining the National League in 1962. Kent, who lives in Austin and owns a ranch in South Texas, said he'd been thinking about the for awhile and sent agent Jeff Klein to the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this week to make it happen. "I sent him to Tennessee and said, `Go get me to Houston, will you?"' Kent said. He called his decision a "no-brainer," citing the departure of manager Dusty Baker as decreasing the attractiveness of the . Kent, who spent the last six seasons with the , said he fell in love with Texas when his Cal-Berkeley team visited Austin in the 1980s. Kent, 34, won the MVP award two years ago and hit .313 last season with 37 homers and 108 RBIs, helping San Francisco win its first NL pennant since 1989. , and Kent combine to give the a formidable middle of the lineup. "There will not be a team in the National League this year that has more dangerous 3-4-5 hitters than the Houston ," Hunsicker said. But where to put everyone? Biggio will be enduring his second position change. He began his career as a catcher. Berkman wants to move from center field to left, saying Biggio has better speed for the expansive center field at home. is the probable right fielder, though ousted outfielder and prospect are expected to challenge him. Agent Barry Axelrod and Biggio had previously discussed a possible move to the outfield in the context of possible talks for a contract extension, and Biggio even played a game there last season when the had injuries. "It's a little scary doing that going into the last year of your contract," Axelrod said. "If there's anyone who could make that switch, it's Craig, he's done it before." president Tal Smith, who signed Ryan in 1979, said Kent's arrival surpasses that of the Hall of Fame pitcher as the biggest free agent acquisition in club history. The deal puts the ' projected payroll over the team's budgeted $60 million. "We're trying to reward the fans by playing better and going to the World Series and winning it," owner Drayton McLane said. general manager Brian Sabean last spoke to Klein on Sunday. San Francisco had offered a three-year contract with the chance of a fourth year based on Kent reaching a specific number of plate appearances, Sabean said. There was also a mutual option for a fifth year. "He'll be missed obviously, and that's an understatement," Sabean said. "As the season ended we had so much business at hand and had pie-in-the sky ideas. It was more us handling the business we thought was attainable and achievable first, while being mindful of payroll." Kent, who injured a wrist during spring training last season and fought with during a game, had until Thursday to accept the ' offer of salary arbitration. San Francisco prepared for Kent's departure by signing , who can play second base and the outfield, and , who can play second or third. The went 84-78 and finished second to the St. Louis in the NL Central last season. Kent, a three-time All-Star, has a .289 career average with 253 homers and 1,007 RBIs. He hit .269 with three homers and eight RBIs in the postseason, hitting three home runs against Anaheim in the World Series. He gets a $3 million signing bonus, payable $1 million each on March 1, July 1 next year, and March 1, 2004. Kent gets a $6 million salary for 2003, of which $2 million is deferred to March 1, 2005, and $3 million to July 1, 2005. He gets an $8.5 million salary for 2004, of which $2 million is deferred to March 1, 2006, and $3.5 million to July 1, 2006. Houston has a $9 million option for 2005 with a $700,000 buyout.
Tagged: Astros, Nationals, Giants, Julio Lugo, Vladimir Guerrero

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