Cubs' closer agrees to $4.3 million, two-year deal

Updated: January 15, 2004, 5:36 PM ET

CHICAGO -- For the first time in his career, Chicago Cubs closer Joe Borowski has some security.

Borowski agreed to a $4.3 million, two-year contract with the Cubs on Thursday, avoiding arbitration.

"I don't think it's fully sunk in yet," he said. "Maybe when it does, in about a week, my wife and I will go celebrate."

Borowski made $410,000 last season -- $110,000 over the minimum -- and would have been in for a big raise anyway after saving 33 games in his first season as a closer. But this contract gives the 32-year-old security he could only dream of when he was playing in the Independent and Mexican leagues, just a few of the stops on his long, hard road to the majors.

"I wanted to have a stable situation and I was fortunate the Cubs rewarded me," Borowski said. "It just gives me a sense of security that they think that much of me to do that when they didn't have to."

But the Cubs like Borowski for what he's done. When closer Antonio Alfonseca got hurt at the end of spring training, Borowski told manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Larry Rothschild he could do the job -- even though he'd only saved two games in his career.

Borowski converted his first six save chances, pitching so well Alfonseca never had the opportunity to get his job back. He was 33-of-37 in save opportunities, with 14 coming in games he entered with a one-run lead, and he had a 2.63 ERA.

He held batters to a .207 average, and he struck out 66 while walking just 19.

"There's nothing not to like about Joe," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "He's a great competitor, he did a heck of job for us last year. He's had two good years back-to-back for us.

"He's a very valuable guy to the ballclub, on and off the field. He's a tremendous human being, and we're thrilled to reward him for his outstanding efforts."

A high school All-American in New Jersey, Borowski was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1989. He bounced around the minors for six years before finally making it to the majors with the Baltimore Orioles in 1995.

Though he had a 1.23 ERA in six relief appearances for the Orioles, they traded him to Atlanta in the offseason. Borowski shuffled from team to team over the next few years, getting a call-up here and there but never enough time to prove himself. When the Cincinnati Reds cut him during spring training in 2000, he went to the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League, but found his heart wasn't really in it.

He gave baseball one last try, going to Monterrey in the Mexican League. Not only did Borowski rediscover his love for the game, he attracted the eyes of the Cubs. Signed as a free agent before spring training, Borowski was the last player added to Chicago's roster before the 2002 season.

He's turned out to be a deal. He's Chicago's most reliable reliever over the past two years, going 11-14 with a 3.41 ERA and 35 saves.

"It says everything about him," Hendry said of Borowski's perseverance. "That's one of the reasons we felt so good about Joe. We felt we wanted to give Joe some security, which he's never had. He's been through every possible tough scenario a man could go through to achieve success in the major leagues.

"I think this is really the ideal deal for everyone."

Though the Cubs signed former Minnesota closer LaTroy Hawkins as a free agent last month, Borowski will begin the season as the closer. He will earn $2 million this year and $2.3 million in 2005, with performance bonuses available based on games finished.

Borowski said he doesn't care what job he has, just as long as he's pitching.

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index