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02/29/2004 4:04 PM ET

Utility role fits Walker just fine

Newcomer likely to contribute in many ways

By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com Buy tickets



MESA, Ariz. -- Todd Walker is taking grounders at second, short and third this spring, but he's not taking Mark Grudzielanek's job away from him.


Walker was the Boston Red Sox everyday second baseman in 2003 but joins the Chicago Cubs as a backup everything. As far as Cubs manager Dusty Baker is concerned, Grudzielanek is his regular second baseman.


"What are you going to say -- 'Grud' didn't play well? This guy played excellent second base," Baker said. "He hit .315. It's not like he hit .230. It's not a competition to me. 'Walk' knew what he was getting into when he signed here.


"To me, Walker is a compliment and gives us more tools and more weapons either off the bench or other positions where we're working him out on and he'll play second base sometimes, too," Baker said. "Grud's not going to play every day. Nobody's going to play every day."


But the Cubs don't have a right-left platoon with Grudzielanek and Walker.


"If it's a platoon, then Walk would play more because there are more right-handers than left-handers," Baker said. "I just told Walk to bring his first baseman's glove, his outfielder's glove. It's hard to take a guy's job when you play the way he did last year. It's impossible."


And Walker is perfectly happy with that. Asked if there was competition between himself and Grudzielanek, Walker said, "Not in my mind."


"First of all, (Grudzielanek) is the starter," Walker said. "If I wanted to create a competition, it would throw a lot of fuel on a fire that's just not there. Secondly, he's a buddy and a friend of mine and I'm pulling for him. That doesn't mean I won't go out there and give it everything I've got. I know he's the guy and I'll be pulling for him.


"Going into this year, I'm content with helping an already outstanding team win the World Series," he said. "If my help is pinch-hitting, I'm OK with that."


Walker batted .283 for the Red Sox last season, with 13 home runs and 85 RBIs. He committed 16 errors in 139 games at second base, while Grudzielanek made eight miscues in 121 games. Baker likes defense, and that would give Grudzielanek the edge.


But Walker is a left-handed bat, and the Cubs need that more than his glove in a very right-handed lineup.


"He knew (he'd be backup) when he signed on," Baker said of Walker, a free agent who inked a one-year deal. "He could've gone to Cleveland where he could play every day. He said he wanted to come to a situation where they could win. He didn't come to cause a rift or controversy. He came here to help us win."


"I believe there's only two teams in the whole league that are worth playing for at this point in my life and that's the Cubs and Red Sox," Walker said. "And if you win with the Cubs or Red Sox, it would be far greater than any other World Series win."


The Red Sox didn't try to re-sign Walker because they told him they wanted to spend their salary money on acquiring additional pitching. So, he moved on. He's talked to some of the players who won rings with the Florida Marlins last year.


"They said, 'Yeah, it was great but not that great. We won it and whatever,'" Walker said. "That would not be the case if we won it with the Cubs. This has to be the best opportunity that they've had."

He actually broke into the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins as a third baseman. He can play first, short, left field if necessary.


"Obviously, I'm not going to be a Gold Glover right away," Walker said of the other positions. "I'm confident I can hold down those positions. I look at it in a positive way -- Dusty wants my bat in the lineup."


Baker said he didn't promise Walker a specific number of at-bats this year. He wants the 30-year-old infielder ready. And Walker accepts his role.


"I hope (Grudzielanek) has the best year of his life. I honestly do," Walker said. "If that means I pinch-hit and sit on the bench all year and we win the World Series, that's perfectly fine with me."

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