DALLAS - Mark Grace wanted to retire a Chicago Cub. He even had Wrigley Field ivy painted on his motorcycle. It's rare for any player to remain in one organization, however, and Grace didn't prove to be an exception.
He also didn't seem to mind.
Grace signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday, ending his tenure with the Cubs after 13 seasons. The deal includes a mutual option for $3 million.
"It's going to be excitement," Grace said about the first time he slips on a Diamondbacks uniform. "Knowing that they have a chance to go to the World Series and win every day, that's what it's going to feel like. The days of mourning over Chicago are long gone. I'm a very excited Arizona Diamondback."
Asked if he felt mistreated by the Cubs, Grace said, "Absolutely not. Everything I have is because of the Chicago Cubs. I'll never say anything bad about the Tribune Company or my teammates or anything about the city of Chicago or the Cubs' organization. It was a great 13 years. But just like with any other walk of life, when your boss doesn't want you around anymore, you have to find work elsewhere. And I landed on my feet. Boy, did I ever. This is the perfect place for me."
The Cubs declined Thursday to offer arbitration to Grace, a four-time Gold Glove winner who batted .280 with 11 homers and 82 RBIs last season. They never made an effort to retain him, mostly because of two first basemen in their farm system who would have been blocked if Grace had been re-signed.
Julio Zuleta batted .294 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 30 games after being promoted to the majors. Hee Seop Choi was named one of the Arizona Fall League's top prospects and might be ready by 2002.
The Cubs also are looking for more power out of the position. Grace, who earned $5.3 million last season, is a lifetime .309 hitter with 148 home runs. His 1,754 hits and 364 doubles in the 1990s were the most in the majors.
"I think he'll find the confines of Bank One Ballpark even friendlier," said Diamondbacks general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. "I think the 7 1/2 foot fences and no wind blowing in will be more to his liking." The addition of Grace means Greg Colbrunn becomes a pinch hitter after batting .313 with 15 homers and 57 RBIs in 116 games. Another first baseman, Erubiel Durazo, is learning to play right field in winter ball.
Grace became the first player to hit a ball into the pool in right-center field at Bank One Ballpark on May 12, 1998. He did it again on July 29.
"Adding a player of Mark Grace's caliber strengthens our team on and off the field," Garagiola said. "He brings an enthusiasm and passion for the game, and has obviously distinguished himself as one of the top all-around first basemen in the majors."
Cubs line up arms
The Cubs further improved their pitching staff yesterday by signing left-hander Jeff Fassero to a two-year deal with a mutual option for 2003. They signed Julian Tavarez to a two-year deal last month and reportedly have agreed on a two-year deal with closer Tom Gordon pending the results of a physical.
Fassero returns to the National League, where he broke into the majors with the Montreal Expos in 1991. He also pitched for Seattle (1997-99), Texas (1999) and Boston (2000), compiling a 100-91 career record and 3.89 ERA in 10 seasons. He's made 217 starts and 187 relief appearances.
He's always fared well in Wrigley Field, allowing seven earned runs in 40 innings spanning 13 appearances for a 1.58 ERA.
Fassero went 8-8 with a 4.78 ERA for Boston last season. He made 23 starts among his 38 appearances.
Plesac back with Jays
Left-handed reliever Dan Plesac is returning to the Toronto Blue Jays, agreeing to a two-year deal. He received a $400,000 signing bonus and will be paid $1.8 million in 2001 and $2.2 million in 2002.
Plesac, 38, pitched in Toronto during 1997-99 before being traded to Arizona for infielder Tony Batista and pitcher John Frascatore. He went 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA in 62 games last season.
For his career, Plesac is 56-62 with a 3.65 ERA and 154 saves in 15 seasons.
The Orioles made one off-field move this week, hiring Kevin Ibach as an assistant in their player development department.
Ibach, 22, worked as a public relations intern this summer. He'll assist vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift, farm director Don Buford and assistant farm director Tripp Norton.