CLEVELAND -- The Indians needed infield depth for the long haul, and the Cardinals needed a second-base solution for the stretch run. And thus another trade was born.
The Tribe sent veteran second baseman Ronnie Belliard to the Cards after Sunday's game in exchange for utilityman Hector Luna. The 26-year-old Luna, a versatile player with a solid bat but inconsistent glove, will join the Indians in Boston on Monday. With the Cards this season, he's hit .291 with four homers and 21 RBIs in 75 games. Luna is no stranger to the Indians' organization. He was originally signed by the Tribe in 1999. The Indians lost him to the Devil Rays in the December 2002 Rule V draft and got him back in April of the following year. They lost him again to the Cards in the December '03 Rule V draft. "We're familiar with the player, familiar with his ability and skills," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "We'll get a chance to see him on a regular basis and evaluate as we go. He certainly will play an important role on our team." Two things about Luna were especially appealing to the Indians -- his versatility (a common buzzword for the Indians during their summer swapping spree) and his contract status. Because he only has two-plus seasons in the big leagues, Luna is not yet arbitration-eligible until after the '07 season. That means the Indians could have control of him for the next four years. As for the versatility, Luna has the ability to play virtually anywhere. With St. Louis, he's played second base, shortstop and left field and also dabbled in center field, right field, first base and third. The Cardinals hoped for him to emerge as their everyday second baseman this season, but he didn't pan out. "I think, at the very least, he's a guy with tremendous versatility and the ability to play multiple positions," Shapiro said. "We'll certainly take the next 50-some games to evaluate whether there's something beyond that, as well." Luna and fellow utilitymen Joe Inglett and Aaron Boone are all expected to get starts at second base in the season's waning months. The possibility still exists for the Indians to deal Boone before Monday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver trading deadline or before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline. And though Shapiro shipped Belliard to a contender, the GM is also leaving open the possibility of attempting to sign Belliard in free agency this winter. "Ronnie's still in the realm of alternatives for us next year as a potential second baseman," Shapiro said. "Ronnie's career took off when he got the opportunity to play every day here. He did a great job for us, and we were proud to have him in Indians uniform. I've expressed to him that we certainly hope he'll consider coming back." Belliard had just gotten out of the shower after Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Mariners, in which he went 2-for-4, when he was told to report to the manager's office. At that point, he knew what was coming, but that was the first indication he had that he'd be dealt. "I didn't think they'd trade me," Belliard said. Few thought Belliard would be quite the asset he was over the last three seasons with the Indians. When signed as a free agent before the '04 season, he was viewed as a one-year stopgap until Brandon Phillips was set to take over. Two-and-a-half years later, Belliard was still the everyday starter, and Phillips had been dealt to the Reds. "I came here in 2004 and was trying to prove to people that a lot of what they say is wrong," Belliard said. "I think I did. I think [the Cardinals] think I can help them in the long run, and this is what happened." Although the trade sent him from an Indians club 13 games under .500 to a Cardinals team in first place in the NL Central, Belliard didn't seem overly pleased to be leaving the comforts of the Indians' clubhouse. "I'll go to St. Louis, it's a good city to play ball in," he said. "I'll try to help them win the division. I know I'm going to make friends over there, but I have a lot of friends here. I feel good about them, and I know they feel good about me, so it's hard for me." The 31-year-old Belliard could very well command a multiyear deal in free agency, and Shapiro said earlier this year that he's not likely to go that route with him. Belliard did say he'd consider signing with the Indians. With the deadline fast approaching, Shapiro, who has signed off on five trades involving veterans the last two months, said he's not expecting to go forward with any other non-waiver deals. "I don't expect us to do any more business before the deadline," he said.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.