By RICK GANO, AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP) - Less than two weeks before the start of spring training, Kenny Lofton (pictured, right) found a place to play.
The six-time All-Star agreed Friday to a $1.25 million, one-year contract with the Chicago White Sox, a big rival of the Cleveland Indians -- Lofton's team for nine of his 11 major league seasons.
"We all got together and thought it was a marriage that would work," White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said at the team's annual winter convention. "We became a better team today."
Lofton, 34, a former Arizona basketball player known for his acrobatic defensive plays, has a .302 career batting average with 92 homers, 551 RBIs and 479 stolen bases in 1,366 games. He also played in Houston and Atlanta.
Last year, Lofton hit a career-low .261 with 14 homers, 66 RBIs and 16 steals in 133 games with the Indians, battling a rib cage problem before the All-Star break.
"He's in the best shape he's been in a long time," Williams said. "In the second half last year, it was like the Kenny Lofton of old, and hopefully that's what we'll get."
Lofton's departure is just one of many for the restructured Indians, who have dominated the AL Central with the exception of 2000, when the White Sox won the division.
Cleveland traded Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets and lost free agent Juan Gonzalez to Texas.
Lofton rejoins former Cleveland teammate Sandy Alomar with the White Sox.
"If Kenny is healthy, he's one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball," Sandy Alomar said Friday. "He gets on base, he walks. When he struggles, he bunts. He knows his role."
The White Sox signed Lofton just three days after trading center fielder Chris Singleton to the Baltimore Orioles.
With Lofton in center, it appears 24-year-old Aaron Rowand, who hit .293 in 63 games for Chicago last season, will have to wait to be an everyday player.
"We pulled Aaron aside to tell him that we feel just as strongly about him and his future as we did yesterday," Williams said.
Lofton also affords White Sox more flexibility. It will allow them to drop Ray Durham from the top spot in the order to No. 2 and put Jose Valentin deeper in the order.
Valentin, who played shortstop two years ago and experimented in center field last spring, is slated to start the season at third base. Royce Clayton, after a strong second half, will be the shortstop.
Lofton, who has 20 leadoff homers in his career, can earn an additional $375,000 in performance bonuses and $1.4 million in bonuses based on the team's home attendance.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)