LOS ANGELES — With power in short supply on the free agency front, the Los Angeles Dodgers went for speed.
Juan Pierre and the Dodgers finalized a $44 million, five-year contract Wednesday, giving the club another dangerous threat at the top of the lineup to go with Rafael Furcal.
“Juan’s ability to hit combined with his speed make him a perfect catalyst for our lineup,” general manager Ned Colletti said. “I’ve long admired how he plays the game. We’re thrilled he’s here, he’s a good man, he’s going to be a great player for us —a great addition.”
The 29-year-old Pierre hit .292 with 204 hits, 58 stolen bases, three homers and 40 RBIs for the Chicago Cubs last season. Previously, the left handed-hitting center fielder played two full seasons and part of another with the Colorado Rockies and three years with the Florida Marlins.
Pierre has a .303 career batting average and 325 stolen bases. He finished first or second in the NL in stolen bases in each of the past six seasons, and was the most difficult player in the league to strike out in five of the last six years.
Pierre has 1,182 hits since 2001 —the second-highest total in the majors behind Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki.
“I’m just happy to be part of a storied franchise —a playoff-caliber team,” Pierre said during a conference call from his parents’ home in Alexandria, La. “Hopefully I can be another piece of the puzzle to help them win the World Series. They’re a winning team, and most of the guys they had last year are coming back. I think there’s a good mixture as far as the young and old. I felt that it was the right spot for me.”
Pierre will earn $7.5 million next season, $8 million in 2008, $10 million each in 2009 and 2010, and $8.5 million in 2011. He figures to bat first or second, with Furcal hitting first, second or third.
“Me and Furcal have been going at it since low A in the backwoods of Carolina,” Pierre said. “I’ve hit leadoff most of my career. It doesn’t matter, wherever I can fit in. I’d probably be most comfortable hitting leadoff because that’s all I’ve ever done.”
Pierre has played in 162 games in each of the past four years. He ranked second in the majors in bunt hits each of the past four seasons after being the leader in 2001 and 2002.
“Juan Pierre brings us a dimension of offense and speed to high degree,” Colletti said. “He gets on base a lot, a lot of hits. Stolen bases are obvious.”
The Dodgers entered the offseason in search of a power hitter, having hit only 153 homers last season. But Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez signed with the Cubs, prompting Los Angeles to change its priorities.
“The lack of power that was out there on the market, we chose to go in the same direction we did last year,” Colletti said. “The speed part is a key element to it.”
Regarding where Pierre and Furcal hit in the lineup, Colletti said: “However that works out gives the middle of our lineup extra opportunities to produce.”
The Dodgers were in the market for at least one outfielder because J.D. Drew opted out of the final three years of his contract earlier this month and became a free agent. The addition of Pierre almost surely means Kenny Lofton won’t be re-signed. The 39-year-old Lofton hit .301 with 32 stolen bases in his only season with Los Angeles.
Pierre hit .305 with a career-high 65 stolen bases in 2003, when he helped the Marlins win the World Series. He had his best season the following year, hitting .326 with a career-high 221 hits.
“I wanted to sign early instead of late,” he said. “I just sat back, I didn’t worry too much about it. I’m happy where I’m at now.”