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Cardinals Sign Vina to 3-Year Deal

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals plan to keep their infield together for a while.

Second baseman Fernando Vina agreed to a $15 million, three-year contract extension Wednesday, following deals earlier this spring with shortstop Edgar Renteria and third baseman Fernando Tatis. All of the deals run through 2003, and Vina's contract gives the team an option for 2004.

Plus, first baseman Mark McGwire is signed through next season.

The Cardinals acquired Vina, 31, last December in a four-player trade with the Brewers, sending right-hander Juan Acevedo and two minor leaguers to be named to Milwaukee. Vina, who had been in the final year of a two-year deal is making $2.3 million this season, took an immediate liking to St. Louis.

``They knew I was happy and wanted to stay here and they wanted me, and they wanted me to be here for a while,'' Vina said. ``I was very happy with that, and we were able to come up with something that was fair.''

Vina gets a $1 million signing bonus, $4 million each in 2001 and 2002, and $5 million in 2003. The Cardinals have a $4.5 million option for 2004 with a $1 million buyout.

He could have been a free agent after the season.

``I thought about it,'' he said. ``If everything was fair and I felt happy about the deal I was getting, that's all I really wanted.''

Vina was an All-Star in 1998. He came cheap because he played only 37 games last year due to injuries, batting .266 with one homer and 16 RBIs.

This year, he's been the catalyst for the Cardinals' major league leading offense, batting .330 with a team-high 37 hits and .409 on-base percentage. He also has not made an error.

As part of the deal, Vina will make an annual contribution to the team's charity, Cardinals Care.

The Cardinals also signed right-handed reliever Darren Holmes, released last week by the Arizona Diamondbacks, today to augment the bullpen. Holmes passed a pair of auditions Tuesday and Wednesday.

Holmes, 34, will be used as a setup man and could occasionally close. He was 4-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 44 games last year with the Diamondbacks and has 57 career saves.

``He threw great,'' general manager Walt Jocketty said.

Rookie Gene Stechschulte, who allowed four runs in two innings Wednesday, was optioned to Triple-A Memphis. He allowed seven earned runs in six innings.

Holmes spent five years with the Colorado Rockies, and had a career-best 25 saves in 1993. The Cardinals have to pay him only a prorated share of the $200,000 minimum, about $166,000, and Arizona will have to make up the difference in his $1.85 million salary this year plus a $200,000 buyout for his option year.

The Diamondbacks designated Holmes for assignment April 21 to make room for closer Matt Mantei, who was activated from the disabled list. Holmes declined an assignment to Triple-A Tucson, and cleared waivers Sunday.

He allowed three runs on five hits in 2 1-3 innings this season with the Diamondbacks.
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