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Sunday, February 11, 2007
Mauer, Twins avoid arbitration with four-year deal news services

MINNEAPOLIS -- AL batting champ Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins agreed Sunday to a four-year contract worth $33 million, avoiding salary arbitration and ensuring one of the team's young stars will be in uniform for the long term.

Minnesota Twins

140 13 84 86 .429 .347

Mauer had been on his way to Arizona on Saturday, in preparation for his arbitration case that was scheduled to be heard on Tuesday. But as he made his flight connection in Dallas, he gave the OK to finalize his new four-year contract.

"I'm excited," Mauer told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney on Sunday, as he went to play a round of golf with teammate J.D. Durbin. "The contract stuff is behind me, and now I can focus on the baseball side of things. I get to play in our new stadium that's going to open in 2010."

Mauer celebrated his new deal at dinner on Saturday, and his cell phone rang constantly Sunday with calls from teammates, as they learned about his new contract.

Mauer, 23, batted .347 with 84 RBIs in 2006 to help the Twins rally from a 12½-game deficit in the division race to win the AL Central on the final day of the regular season. He played in his first All-Star Game last summer.

The first pick in the 2001 draft out of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Mauer was eligible for arbitration this winter for the first time. He became the first catcher to lead the majors in batting average and the first AL catcher to win the batting title.

"We're extremely happy, because there is not a player who belongs with the Twins more than Joe Mauer," his agent, Ron Shapiro, said in a brief phone interview Sunday morning.

Mauer didn't immediately return phone messages.

Shapiro represented two Hall of Famers, Baltimore's Cal Ripken and Minnesota's Kirby Puckett, who spent their entire careers with the same team. While Mauer most likely has several years left, this was a move in that direction. The deal will keep Mauer with the Twins through at least 2010, the year the team is scheduled to begin playing in a new Minneapolis ballpark.

That didn't mean Mauer gave Minnesota a hometown discount, however.

He gets $3.75 million this year, $6.25 million in 2008, $10.5 million in 2009 and $12.5 million in 2010. Mauer has additional award bonuses and gets the right to designate three teams each year that he can't be traded to without his consent.

"This is a market deal," general manager Terry Ryan said. "Don't worry about that."

The contract takes the Twins through Mauer's first year of free agency.

"This is a good day for this organization, and I feel like it's one of those deals which is going to work for both sides," Ryan said. "You have to be comfortable with how a player's going to respond to security. I don't think there's any question how Joe's going to respond to that."

Mauer's rookie season, 2004, was cut short by a knee injury that raised some questions about how his body could handle the physical demands of his position behind the plate. But he has been fine ever since.

"That's one of the good things about this situation," Ryan said. "He is in awful good shape and showed it last year."

Twins pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., by next Sunday. Ryan has one more player left in arbitration, right fielder and cleanup hitter Michael Cuddyer.

ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney and The Associated Press contributed to this report.