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Walker gets second chance with Cubs

Todd Walker came close to reaching the World Series with the Red Sox this past season, and next year he'll take a shot at making the Fall Classic with another near-miss team.


The free-agent second baseman, unwanted in Boston -- despite a good bat -- because of his limited range in the field, yesterday agreed to a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Cubs. Just two weeks ago, Chicago re-signed its starting second baseman, Mark Grudzielanek, to a one-year deal for a guaranteed $2.75 million.

"I passed up a few starting jobs to put myself in this position," said Walker, who hit .283 and had a career-high 85 RBIs in 2003. "I want to play for a team that had a chance to win the World Series. You can only say a handful of teams have that opportunity, and the Cubs are one of them."

The starting job Walker turned down was with the Indians, who were going to pay him $2.4 million. The 30-year-old lefthanded hitter earned $3.45 million last season with the Sox, for whom he was at his best in the postseason, hitting .349 with five homers and six RBIs in 12 games.

Walker can relate to the disappointment the Cubs and their fans suffered during the NL Championship Series, which Chicago led, three games to one, before falling to the Marlins. "I understand the pain and everything the Cubs went through, because the Red Sox went through the same thing," said Walker. "So we have some unfinished business."

NY centers on Lofton

The New York Yankees finalized a two-year, $6.2 million free agent contract with Kenny Lofton, who will challenge Bernie Williams for the center field job.

"They said they want me to play center field," said Lofton, who hit .296 last season for Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs with 12 homers, 46 RBIs, and 30 steals. "I am a center fielder, and they know that."

Manager Joe Torre has said he expects the 36-year-old Lofton and the incumbent Williams, 35, to compete for the job during spring training. The loser of the center field battle is expected to be the regular designated hitter.

Narron goes to Reds

Jerry Narron, the Red Sox' bench coach last season, took the same job with the Cincinnati Reds and new manager Dave Miley. Narron managed the Texas Rangers from 2001-02, and before that was a coach under manager Johnny Oates at Baltimore and Texas. Narron received a one-year contract, as did Tom Hume (bullpen coach), Mark Berry (third-base coach), Randy Whisler (first-base coach) and Chris Chambliss (hitting coach) . . . The Oakland A's, in need of a closer after Keith Foulke left for the Red Sox, agreed to a three-year contract with Arthur Rhodes. Financial terms weren't disclosed, although the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Rhodes is guaranteed $9.2 million over the contract. The lefthander, 34, had a 3-3 record with a 4.17 ERA and three saves for Seattle last season. He was used mostly in a setup role but converted all three save opportunities in June when closer Kazuhiro Sasaki was on the disabled list . . . Third baseman Chris Stynes signed a one-year, $975,000 contract to join the Pittsburgh Pirates, his sixth team overall and fifth in the last five seasons. Stynes, who spent 2001 with the Red Sox, hit .255 with 11 home runs and a career-high 73 RBIs with Colorado last season . . . Free-agent utilityman Shawn Wooten agreed to a one-year, $575,000 deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Wooten hit .243 with seven homers and 32 RBIs in a career-high 98 games for Anaheim last season . . . The Arizona Diamondbacks signed righthanders Shane Reynolds and Steve Sparks to one-year contracts. Reynolds, 36, went 11-9 with a 5.43 ERA for Atlanta last season. Sparks, a 38-year-old knuckleballer, pitched for Detroit and Oakland, going 0-6 with a 4.88 ERA and two saves.

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