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Mariners, Ibanez agree to two-year extension

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Seattle Mariners gave veteran
Raul Ibanez a two-year, $11 million contract extension Wednesday through the 2008
season.

Ibanez had 20 homers and 89 RBI while hitting .280 last season.
He has a $4.25 million salary this season in the final year of his
previous contract and gets $5.5 million in each of the following
two seasons.

The Mariners hope to bat the left-handed Ibanez fifth in the
Mariners' lineup behind Richie Sexson. Ibanez was one of the few
bright spots for Seattle, when the team finished last in the
American League with a .256 batting average and had 93 losses.

"This was a pretty high priority for us in the offseason,"
general manager Bill Bavasi said. "The signing for us is terrific
because there's so few real quality left or switch-hitters that can
operate in the middle of the lineup and be as consistent as Raul.
We wanted to lock him up."

Second-year Mariners manager Mike Hargrove endorsed the
extension.

"I'm extremely happy that Raul has decided to stick around,"
he said.

Ibanez said he had no thoughts of free agency after the Mariners
told him they were interested in giving him a contract extension.

"I'm ecstatic to be with the Mariners," he said. "This is
where I wanted to be. I didn't want to go anywhere else. My family
wants to be here. My wife loves it in Seattle. There's no place
else I want to be. Once they mentioned the extension, I was
definitely motivated to get it done here."

After the retirement of Edgar Martinez, Ibanez started 101 games
as the Mariners' designated hitter last season. He also started 55
games in left field. But the Mariners signed veteran Carl Everett
during the offseason to be their designated hitter, meaning that
Ibanez will move to left field this season.

"I don't think there's many guys who want to DH," Ibanez said.
"So I trained hard this winter to prepare myself for the 162-game
grind."

A .283 hitter with 105 homers and 456 RBI in a major league
career that started in 1996 in Seattle, Ibanez thinks playing the
outfield full time will make him a better hitter this season.

"I think that over a 162-game season you're going to be more
involved in the flow of the game and it helps you stay loose and
you also feel better about yourself," he said. "When you're DHing
and you don't get a hit that day and you don't get on base or you
don't drive in a run, that's a stressful night."

Ibanez is in the final year of a $13 million, three-year
contract with Seattle. In 2005, he was one of six major leaguers to
play in all 162 games with the Mariners. He signed with the team as
a free agent in November 2003 after playing in Kansas City three
seasons.

In his first two years back in Seattle, he had 36 homers and 151
RBI, while batting .290.

He originally was a 36th round draft choice of the Mariners in
June 1992 and made his major league debut with the team in 1996.

Since Ibanez's return to Seattle from Kansas City, the Mariners
have had two straight last-place finishes in the AL West, losing
192 games. Ibanez said he was confident the Mariners can turn
themselves around.

"I think we're going to be a good team this year," he said.
"I think we're going to surprise a lot of people."