February 21, 2016

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) New Padres shortstop Alexei Ramirez reported to spring training on Sunday, ready to anchor San Diego's infield at age 34.

Ramirez signed a $4 million, one-year contract with a mutual option for 2017. He spent the previous eight seasons with the Chicago White Sox, who declined a $10 million team option.

''I'm grateful for the opportunity here,'' Ramirez said through an interpreter.

Although his offensive numbers fell off last year, the Padres point out he played at least 154 games in each of the last six seasons and they liked his second-half play.

''Even though he struggled in the first half of the year, he came back and had a good second half,'' general manager A.J. Preller said. ''He still has a youthful body and he's still motivated to play shortstop.''

Preller and manager Andy Green said Ramirez had offers from other teams, possibly for more money, to be more of a utility player.

''He wanted to play everyday shortstop, so we thought it was a pretty good fit,'' Preller said.

''It's very much the preparation you do and taking care of yourself in the offseason,'' Ramirez said. ''That's what I've done every year. That's what maintains my strength and health throughout the entire season.''

An All-Star in 2014, Ramirez saw his numbers drop to.249 at the plate with 10 homers and 62 RBIs last season. He's a career .273 hitter with 109 homers and 542 RBIs.

''That's just how baseball works,'' he said. ''Sometimes you'll have ups and downs, and you have to prepare yourself for the changes that happen. That's what happened. Something changed in the middle of the season.''

Said Green: ''His second half finish was right in line with what he's done throughout his career. It was a very good finish.

''Say whatever you want about an aging curve, he's still very athletic,'' the rookie skipper added. ''He's played 150-plus games for every year of his career, so he's durable. We're going to lean heavily on him to anchor our infield.''

San Diego had been looking to upgrade at shortstop, where super-utility player Alexi Amarista made 78 starts and Clint Barmes made 51.

Green met with Ramirez at the winter meetings in December.

''There was a hunger in him to prove himself,'' Green said. ''What stood out to me more than anything is I asked him in the middle of it: `Are you willing to be coached? Like if I have something for you, like if I've seen something, you want to know what I know about you?' And he said, `Yes.' In that moment everybody's going to answer politically correct because you're trying to get a job on a team.

''But the first time I saw him after that, when we had signed him, he came up to me and said, `What do you have for me? What do you want to teach me,''' Green said. ''I said, `I don't have anything for you right now, but I guarantee you we will have stuff for you.' I just wanted to check who he was, his pulse, if he was hungry to learn.''

Also Sunday, reliever Jose Torres and catcher Christian Bethancourt reported after having visa problems.

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