ST. LOUIS — Mark Ellis spurned offers to be an everyday second baseman in return for learning a secret.
"As much as you can tell, being on the outside looking in, it's a place that you're always very curious about," Ellis said Monday after signing a one-year deal to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. "You're always interested to know how they keep doing it every year.
"When they lose an Albert Pujols, they can go out and be just as good as they were after they lost him as they were before. It seemed like they didn't miss a beat when they had somebody go down for a little while or lose someone to free agency. That's something that always interested me."
The Cardinals have made the playoffs in 10 of the last 14 years and own two World Championships (2006 and 2011) during that time.
"The Cardinals organization speaks for itself," Ellis said. "Their reputation around baseball is incredible. Everybody respects the organization. Some people don't like the organization because they're jealous of them, because it seems like they do everything the right way."
Ellis, 36, will serve as the backup to left-handed-hitting rookie Kolten Wong, who already has been projected as the starter by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and General Manager John Mozeliak.
Ellis, a right-handed hitter, also could see time at third base. If Wong falters, everyday playing time at second will be available.
"The most specific thing they said is they want to win and they want to win now," Ellis said. "That's all I needed to hear. That was a huge signing point for myself.
"They were very honest with me. They were honest with how they feel about Kolten Wong as a player. What sold me on the organization speaks for itself. It's a winning organization. ... Nothing was promised. I'm just going there to play baseball; I'm going there to try to win a championship. Whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do."
Ellis batted .270 with 13 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 48 RBIs in 126 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a career .265 hitter with a .330 on-base percentage, also playing for the Oakland A's and Colorado Rockies.
Ellis has had more than 400 plate appearances in every season of his career, which began in 2002. But at this juncture of his career, he said winning a championship is perhaps more important than regular playing time. St. Louis represented Ellis' best chance to do that.
"You can't determine where you're going to go based on who's going to win the World Series, but you can go there based on who you think has the best chance to win the World Series," Ellis said. "And I think the Cardinals are (among) the top three teams as far as that goes."
Ellis said the Cardinals weren't on him early in the free-agent process, and he was somewhat perplexed when they first began to express interest.
"We had just got done playing against them (in the National League Championship Series) and I saw Matt Carpenter playing second base," Ellis said. "Seeing him get 200 hits (actually, 199) this year ... I didn't know he was going to be a third baseman."
Ellis' representative spoke to Mozeliak last week during the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and Ellis said a deal came together rapidly after that meeting.
"I'm totally fine with one-year deals at this point in my career," Ellis said. "I think it kind of frees you up. If you don't enjoy where you're at for that one year, you get a chance to maybe do it again. I'm not saying I'm not going to love it in St. Louis or it's not going to be great, because I think it is. But I have no problem with a one-year deal at this point."
Wong, the Cardinals' first-round draft pick in 2011, batted .153 (9-for-56) in 32 games last season after hitting .303 with 21 doubles, eight triples, 10 home runs and 45 RBIs in 107 games for Class AAA Memphis.
Mozeliak is convinced Wong is ready to thrive at the big-league level, and the fact that Wong bats left-handed is one of the reasons Mozeliak signed right-handed-hitting Jhonny Peralta to play shortstop.
The Cardinals already have left-handed hitters at third base (Carpenter) and first base (Matt Adams). Another left-handed batter, rookie Oscar Taveras, could figures in the outfield mix, and Jon Jay also still is around and will share center-field duties with newcomer Peter Bourjos, acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas.
"I know Kolten Wong is a favorite of a lot of people in the organization --for good reason," Ellis said. "He's a good baseball player. I'm coming in to be one of the 25 guys on the team. Wherever I play or whatever my role is, that's what I'm going there to do."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.