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01/08/10 11:46 AM EST

Royals sign Podsednik to one-year deal

Free agent becomes candidate as KC's starting center fielder

KANSAS CITY -- Scott Podsednik might be the first name you see in the Royals' batting order next season.

Podsednik, a longtime leadoff batter, was signed by the Royals on Friday to a one-year, $1.75-million contract for 2010 with an option for 2011. Reportedly, the deal also includes incentives that can boost the deal to about $2 million this year and $2.3 million on the option.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore explained that if Podsednik reaches 550 plate appearances in 2010, the club option for 2011 becomes a mutual option. The deal was finalized after Podsednik underwent a physical examination in Kansas City.

Although Podsednik figures as the Royals' starting center fielder, Moore said he was a candidate in left field as well. That's the position that David DeJesus, shifting from center, filled last year. There's a chance then that DeJesus could go back to center.

"It's something we're going to look at," Moore said, noting that manager Trey Hillman would sort through that in Spring Training.

Podsednik was asked how he perceived his role with the Royals.

"I believe that's going to be leading off and creating a spark at the top of the lineup," Podsednik said. "And that will be playing either center field or left field. Whatever Trey feels his lineup is best suited for, I'm open to it."

A speedster, the left-handed batter last season hit .304 for the Chicago White Sox with a .353 on-base percentage and 30 stolen bases. He started 119 games in the leadoff spot after joining the Sox on May 1, 2009.

The Royals began last season with Coco Crisp in center field but he was shut down after 49 games and subsequently underwent surgery on both shoulders. The Royals declined their $8 million option on Crisp for 2010 and he signed with the Oakland A's.

The Royals also had talked to agents for prospective center fielders such as Rick Ankiel and Randy Winn but Podsednik had been in their sights most of the offseason. He seemed the most logical fit because he figures as a top-of-the-lineup batter along with DeJesus.

Although DeJesus has been the Royals' leadoff batter and center fielder for most of his KC career, he made the switch to full-time left fielder last year. And next season might be the time for him to go into the lineup's second slot which was in flux most of 2009.

DeJesus has never been much of a basestealer, a plus for a leadoff batter, and that's one of Podsednik's strong points. DeJesus, who stole just four bases last year, is 44-for-84 (52 percent) in his thievery pursuits while Podsednik 266-for-353 (75 percent).

While Podsednik actually has played more games in left than center (384 to 361) in his career, the middle ground might be his KC spot despite Moore's cautionary stance. DeJesus gave the Royals a Gold Glove-worthy performance in left field last year and seems content at that spot. Jose Guillen, coming off some injuries, is the incumbent right fielder.

The Royals also signed Brian Anderson, another ex-White Sox outfielder, this offseason and have holdover Mitch Maier as another experienced center fielder.

Matter of fact, the Royals are taking on a Chicago South Side tinge. They also obtained second baseman Chris Getz and infielder-outfielder Josh Fields from the White Sox in the swap for third baseman-outfielder Mark Teahen.

And it's possible that, if Guillen were used more as a designated hitter, Fields, Anderson, Maier and certainly Willie Bloomquist could be candidates to log time in the outfield. Bloomquist started 62 games in the outfield last year, including 33 in right.

Fields, primarily a third baseman, played some left field for the Sox.

Podsednik, 33, has a .277 career average in nine Major League seasons with Seattle, Milwaukee, Colorado and the White Sox. Originally drafted by Texas -- in his home state -- in the third round of the 1994 Draft, he played briefly with the Mariners in 2001-02 but was still a rookie, at age 27, with the Brewers in 2003. His .314, 43-steal season earned him several rookie awards although Florida pitcher Dontrelle Willis edged him as the baseball writers' National League Rookie of the Year winner.

After leading the Majors with 70 steals in 2004, he was traded to the White Sox and spent three years with Chicago. Injured much of 2007, he was released and signed with Colorado for 2008 but he was a backup player and got just 181 at-bats (.253). And last year the Rockies cut him at the end of Spring Training.

"It was different for me last year. It was a weird feeling, an eerie feeling being at home at the start of a big league season. It was very humbling and it hit home," Podsednik said. "And one thought did creep in - would I ever play again?"

Quite unexpectedly, the White Sox re-entered his life and signed him to a Minor League contract. He returned to the Majors in May and he made the most of his second chance. Dividing his time between left field and center, his .304 mark led the club. Even so, he didn't seem to be in the White Sox plans for 2010.

Podsednik denied a report that he and agent Ryan Gleichowski had turned off the White Sox by pushing for a two-year contract.

"There was no demand on a two-year deal. Our phone lines were open and ready to communicate for anything. I don't know who started that," he said. "I was open to working on a one-year deal as much as a two-year from the very beginning."

In any event, the White Sox acquired outfielder Juan Pierre from the Dodgers to fill their leadoff spot.

That was the role that Podsednik filled so well for Chicago's World Series championship club in 2005. He hit .290 with an on-base percentage of .351 and stole 59 bases. An All-Star that year, he batted .286 in the postseason and won Game 2 of the World Series with a walk-off home run against Houston.

The Royals had good reason to be impressed by Podsednik. He hit .318 (69-for-217) against them in his career including a .373 mark last season.

Podsednik was asked about the Royals' chances in the American League Central.

"I don't think they're too far away. I think the Central is going to be a competitive division but there's no team that's really too far out in front of any of the other ones," he said. "It's going to be a pretty level playing field. So if we can get our attitude where we need to be ... anything can happen. The Royals don't have to finish last in the Central. It doesn't have to be that way."

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