By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Right fielder Austin Kearns and the Washington Nationals agreed Thursday to a three-year contract that guarantees him $17.5 million, adding a long-term piece to the team’s rebuilding effort.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a better place to be very soon,” Kearns said. “I feel comfortable here and I feel good about where it’s going.”
Kearns will get $3.5 million this year, $5 million in 2008, and $8 million in 2009, and the Nationals hold a $10 million club option for 2010, with a $1 million buyout. The contract does not include bonus clauses.
“Certainly we think Austin’s going to be a cornerstone of this franchise,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “His best years are ahead of him. His prime just starts now.”
Kearns had filed for arbitration, asking for $4.25 million in 2007, while the Nationals offered $3.65 million. He made $1.85 million last season, when he hit .264 with 24 homers, 33 doubles and 86 RBIs for the Nationals and Reds.
Washington acquired Kearns, infielder Felipe Lopez and reliever Ryan Wagner in July in an eight-player trade with Cincinnati.
In five major league seasons, the 26-year-old Kearns has batted .265 with 79 homers, 104 doubles and 299 RBIs.
He’s expected to be a middle-of-the-lineup fixture for Washington, which is revamping its player development system after three consecutive last-place finishes in the NL East.
Kearns joins third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year in 2006), first baseman Nick Johnson and catcher Brian Schneider as the team’s building blocks. Johnson and Schneider both signed deals through 2009 last offseason.
“We have a good core group,” Kearns said. “I don’t think people actually realize the talent that already is here and how close this thing can get to where we want it.”
It’s about time the Nationals locked up a young player with huge upside. This is a great move for them and the fans. Kearns is still very young, has huge power potential, and is a good defensive rightfielder. The Nationals need to build that team arounf Kearns, Ryan Zimmerman (who is a STAR in the making), Felipe Lopez, and John Patterson (if he can stay healthy). They need to rebuild their farm system and use all the money they get and the money they have saved by dumping aging vets and invest in some pitching. The Nationals will probably finish last in the NL East and in the bottom 5 in all of baseball this year but they have a great chance to turn things around by 2008. It’s gonna be a wait and see season for fans, let’s hope they don;t get too disgruntled by 2007 though.
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