The Cardinals, hoping to improve their infield depth, especially at shortstop, formally announced the signing of free-agent infielder Ronny Cedeno to a one-year contract on Monday.

Cedeno, who will be 30 years old later this week, is an eight-season veteran who batted .259 in part-time duty with the New York Mets last season and who also has played with the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

To make room for Cedeno, a .247 lifetime hitter, on the 40-man winter roster, the Cardinals designated for assignment lefthanded reliever Barret Browning, who was 1-3 with a 5.12 earned-run average in 22 games with the Cardinals last season.

Cedeno is a career .303 (27 for 89) hitter at Busch Stadium, but general manager John Mozeliak said he envisioned Cedeno not as a regular but as "protection" in case Rafael Furcal's right elbow, in which he suffered a torn ligament Aug. 30, becomes a problem.

The move, said Mozeliak, did not mean that Pete Kozma, who exceeded expectations as a rookie in September and October, would be forced out of the big-league picture. Mozeliak said he could picture both Cedeno and Kozma being kept as infield backups.