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Astros Ink Hidalgo For $32M

Richard Hidalgo, who had a breakthrough year with the Houston Astros last season, agreed Friday to a $32 million, four-year contract.

Hidalgo's contract is the third-highest in franchise history, trailing only Jeff Bagwell's $85 million, five-year extension, which starts in 2002, and Craig Biggio's $33 million, four-year contract, which runs through 2003.

"I've just got to say I feel so happy that this is a good deal and I'm happy with be with the Astros," Hidalgo said. "I was surprised with the deal. You go back two years ago and I got hurt but I know I can do the job if I stay healthy."

Hidalgo's deal contains a $15 million team option for 2005 with a $2 million buyout, meaning he could earn $45 million over five years if the option is exercised.

Hidalgo, who would have been eligible for free agency after the 2003 season, had career highs in almost all offensive categories last season. He hit 44 homers, three fewer than Bagwell, and hit .314 with 122 RBIs and 118 runs.

In 1999, Hidalgo played in just 108 games, missing time because of left knee surgery. In 1998, he separated his right shoulder crashing into a wall at Coors Field.

"Richard has no weaknesses," general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "He has speed, power, a terrific arm and almost always leads in assists. He grew up a right fielder and we asked him to play center and I might add he's done an extraordinary job adjusting to that position."

Hidalgo opened last season with a career high five RBIs and hit the first opening-day grand slam home run in club history on April 4. Hidalgo hit the Astros' first home run in Enron Field on April 7 against Philadelphia.

He finished the season with a 14-game hitting streak, batting .509 during the streak with six homers and 13 RBIs.

Hidalgo tied a club record by hitting two home runs on consecutive days Sept. 8-9 at Chicago. Moises Alou also accomplished the feat on Aug. 13-14 last season. Hidalgo was the fourth Astro to hit at least 30 homers, 100 runs and 100 RBIs in a single season.

The contract calls for a $2 million signing bonus, with $500,000 payable on April 1, $1 million on Jan. 15, 2002, and $500,000 on Jan. 15, 2003.

He gets salaries of $3 million this year, $5 million in 2002, $8 million in 2003 and $12 million in 2004.

If he wins certain awards, his base salaries could increase by as much $2 million.

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