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Friday, February 2, 2007
Updated: February 4, 11:02 AM ET
Morneau agrees to $4.5 million deal, avoids arbitration

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- AL MVP Justin Morneau agreed Friday to a $4.5 million, one-year contract with the Minnesota Twins, who also settled their salary arbitration cases with third baseman Nick Punto, reliever Juan Rincon and outfielder Lew Ford.

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When Nick Punto retires, his legacy won't be his long and productive career. No, it will be for his invention of a drink that fueled Justin Morneau in his breakout MVP season of 2006. Buster Olney blog Insider

Punto agreed to a $4.2 million, two-year contract, and Ford got a $985,000, one-year deal. Rincon received a $2 million, one-year contract.

Morneau, a 25-year-old first baseman, hit .321 last year with 34 homers and 130 RBIs and won the MVP award by 14 points over New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Morneau's agreement was at the midpoint between the $5 million he had asked for and the $4 million the Twins had offered to the player who hit more homers than any Twin in a season since 1987.

Punto, who hit .290 with 47 RBIs and 17 steals for the AL Central champions, will get $1.8 million this season and $2.4 million in 2008. He had asked for $2.1 million and had been offered $1.6 million.

Rincon went 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA in 74 1-3 innings as Minnesota's primary setup man to closer Joe Nathan. Rincon, who has appeared in at least 75 games in each of the last three seasons, also settled at the midpoint after asking for $2.4 million and receiving an offer of $1.6 million from the team.

Ford was a backup last year who hit .226 with 18 RBIs in 234 at-bats. In addition to his base salary, he could earn $65,000 in performance bonuses: $15,000 for 300 plate appearances, and $25,000 each for 400 and 450 plate appearances. Ford had asked for $1.3 million and had been offered $800,000.

Two Twins remain scheduled for hearings this month: AL batting champion Joe Mauer ($4.5 million vs. $3.3 million), and right fielder Michael Cuddyer ($4.25 million vs. $3 million).