Nats give Belliard two-year extension

Nationals give Belliard two-year extension

WASHINGTON -- Citing that they love his work ethic and his production on the field, the Nationals signed infielder Ronnie Belliard to a two-year, $3.5 million extension on Monday.

The move means that Belliard, who makes $750,000 -- plus incentives -- this year, will not be traded at the July 31 trade deadline and will be part of the Nationals when they play in their new ballpark in 2008.

Belliard said he signed for two more years because he likes the way the Nationals have been playing the last few weeks under Manny Acta. They recently completed a 5-2 homestand.

"I think I bring a lot of things to the table, especially to the bench," Belliard said. "I'm very happy. I think everything [came my way] because of my teammates. We have gotten along well. When we go out there, we leave everything out there. We go and play nine innings.

"I think the way we are playing now, I think this team is going to be all right. They are going to have a new stadium. Hopefully, they will bring some new people and then we'll have a winning team."

The Nationals have been talking to Belliard's agent Dominic Torres for "quite some time" about an extension, according to general manager Jim Bowden. During the next two plus-seasons, the Nationals see Belliard as an everyday second baseman or all purpose reserve.

Belliard has been an invaluable member of the Nationals this season. He has filled in nicely at second base since shortstop Cristian Guzman tore ligaments in his left thumb, which forced Felipe Lopez to switch from second to shortstop.

Entering Tuesday's action, Belliard is hitting .305 with five home runs and 29 RBIs. Acta often talks about how Belliard has quality at-bats.

"We like the way he approaches the game," Bowden said. "We think he is a really good player. I was impressed all year. He is always there for optional workouts. He has a great work ethic and he sets a good example for his teammates. This is a great guy. He gives you a great at-bats every time. He has a great attitude whether he is an every day player or an extra player. I want to have more Ronnie Belliards around."

Bowden said despite popular belief, the Nationals are not looking to dismantle the team. It has been reported that Belliard, first baseman Dmitri Young, relievers Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch and outfielder Ryan Church are on the trade block.

"We are not tearing down here. There is a misconception," Bowden said. "We don't have to move any payroll. We are in the process of building. We are trying to add what we have. We are trying to keep what we have -- if that is better for the team We proved in the first half of the year, there is enough room for Belliard, Lopez and Guzman and keep all three of them."

Young is arguably the most important player on the Nationals this season. He is the leader in the clubhouse and on the field. He is leading the Nationals in hitting (.340), RBIs (52) and on-base percentage (.395).

Asked if the signing of Belliard meant the Nationals were trying to keep Young, all Bowden would say was, "We would love to have Dmitri here," and wouldn't comment any further on Young.

"We'll sign the players that we have or trade the players we have to get better. We are open to all scenarios. We are not in the mode of tearing down," Bowden said.

Before becoming a regular recently, Belliard was one of the main reasons the Nationals' bench improved. Besides showing what he can do at second, Belliard was a valuable third baseman and shortstop.

Belliard credits hitting coach Lenny Harris for his success coming off the bench. Harris was one of the best reserves in the history of baseball.

"When I was on the bench he said, 'Just prepare for one at-bat.' When they throw me out there, I just try to do my thing. If they throw a strike, I'm going to swing at it," Belliard said.

Acta believes that Belliard wanted to show the baseball world how well be could play the game. After coming off a season in which he helped the Cardinals win the World Series, Belliard was unable to get a job until Feb. 18, when he signed a Major League deal with Washington.

"He has worked extremely hard, and I think he wanted to prove people wrong that there was a lot of Ronnie Belliard left in him," Acta said. "The fact that he was out there a couple of days before Spring Training, he wanted to prove people that he was still an everyday player and he has shown that with us."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.