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Reds sign center fielder Taveras

CINCINNATI -- Willy Taveras and the Cincinnati Reds agreed
to a two-year contract Saturday, plugging the team's hole in center
field.

The speedy Taveras is coming off a down season with Colorado. He
batted .251 with a paltry .308 on-base percentage in 133 games,
though he did lead the major leagues with 68 stolen bases.

"Willy Taveras fills two significant needs for our ballclub, a
speed base-stealing threat at the top of the order and superior
defense in center field," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said
in a statement.

Taveras, who turned 27 on Christmas, became a free agent when
the Rockies decided not to offer him a contract by the Dec. 12
deadline. He spent two injury-plagued seasons in Colorado after he
was acquired from Houston in a December 2006 trade.

Cincinnati had been looking for a center fielder with speed,
allowing the team to keep promising young slugger Jay Bruce in
right. Corey Patterson became a free agent after starting 82 games
in center last season, and the Reds traded Ryan Freel to Baltimore
this month in a deal for catcher Ramon Hernandez.

"With the addition of Willy Taveras and Ramon Hernandez, along
with Alex Gonzalez and Brandon Phillips, our defense substantially
improves up the middle," Jocketty said.

Taveras has a .283 career batting average with seven homers, 109
RBIs and 169 stolen bases. He batted .320 with a .367 on-base
percentage for Colorado in 2007, helping the Rockies reach the
World Series.

Taveras, who finished runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year in
2005 to Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard, was caught stealing only
seven times last season for a major league-best .907 stolen-base
percentage.