First baseman Kevin Young signed the richest contract in Pittsburgh Pirates' history on Saturday, a $24 million, four-year deal made possible by the team's soon-to-be-built stadium.
The contract far surpasses shortstop Jay Bell's $17.5 million, four-year deal in 1993 and represents a remarkable turnaround for Young, who was released by both Pittsburgh and Kansas City in 1996.
By next season, Young will make more than twice as much as outfielder Al Martin, whose $2.7 million salary is the Pirates' highest this season.
The deal calls for a $500,000 signing bonus and salaries of $5.5 million in 2000, $6 million in 2001, $5.5 million in 2002 and $6.5 million in 2003. Young is getting $2 million in 1999, the final season of a $3.6 million, two-year contract.
"It hasn't set in yet," SAID Young, who has driven in 182 runs in two seasons since returning to Pittsburgh in 1997. "I'm just totally happy to get this settled. It's almost like a storybook the way this has worked out."
Young celebrated his new contract by homering in his first at-bat this spring in the second inning Saturday against Texas.
The Pirates initially offered Young $16.5 million over three years, then $18 million. They agreed to the fourth year for the same $6 million per year average during lengthy talks Friday night. The Pirates were pressured in part by a spiraling market that saw outfielder Brian Jordan get $40 million from Atlanta and infielder Jose Offerman get $26 million from Boston.
"The market just flew by us," general manager Cam Bonifay said. "It was my preference for (three years) ... but we had to make a business decision. The whole market shifted up with what Boston did (with Offerman)."
By signing Young now, the Pirates prevented their top run producer -- Young drove in 108 runs last season -- from becoming a free agent after this season. They also signaled they will take the same approach the Cleveland Indians did after getting a new stadium by signing their key players to long-term contracts.
The Pennsylvania Legislature signed off last month on the final funding needed to build the Pirates' $228 million PNC Park, a 38,000-seat ballpark expected to open in 2001.
"Yes, it is a statement -- it's a statement by ownership that we're going to do the best that we can to win a championship," said Bonifay, who has traded for or signed six veteran players since the Pirates finished 69-93 last season.
By adding shortstop Pat Meares, second baseman Mike Benjmin, third baseman Ed Sprague, outfielders Brant Brown and Brian Giles and pitcher Pete Schourek, the Pirates have dramatically made over last season's painfully inexperienced team. They also have bought time for their farm system to begin pumping out the players expected to arrive in time for the new stadium.
Young, 29, is the first Pirates veteran to sign this spring but might not be the last. Bonifay faxed a new offer to Jason Kendall's agent on Friday night as the Pirates try to lock the catcher into a long-term deal before he can become a free agent after the 2001 season.
Kendall has made the All-Star team in two of his first three major league seasons and was chosen as the team's MVP last season.
"Yes, we want to get that done now," Bonifay said.
Remarkably, Young was cut during the Pirates' final spring cutdown in 1996 to make room on the opening day roster for utilityman John Wehner. Young signed with Kansas City, but was released again that fall and returned to the Pirates as a minor league free agent in 1997.
Young subsequently won back his starting job at first base and was headed for a 100-RBI season until he missed six weeks with a broken thumb. He finished with a .300 average, 18 homers and 74 RBI that season, then hit .270 with career highs in homers (27) and RBI (108) last season.
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