Mariners closer agrees to $13.1M, three-year contract

SEATTLE -- J.J. Putz impressed at least one opponent in his
debut season as Seattle's closer: Barry Bonds.

Putz cashed in on his breakout year Wednesday, agreeing to a
$13.1 million, three-year contract with the Mariners, and fondly
recalled his ninth-inning matchup with Bonds last spring.

"Anytime you get a guy like him out, it's going to help your
confidence," Putz said. "I found out it's a lot of fun pitching
in the ninth inning and being able to look forward to it every

With a rare Seattle sellout crowd roaring, Putz used a 98 mph
fastball to set up the San Francisco slugger and then struck him
out on a full-count splitter to end a 5-4 win on June 16.

"Man, that closer. He throws 98 miles per hour, then he drops
that split on you? See you later," Bonds said after the game,
smiling, shaking his head and then pantomiming a salute.

The Mariners rewarded Putz for saving 36 games on a last-place
team in 2006, his second full year in the major leagues. They gave
the right-hander a $1.5 million signing bonus plus base salaries of
$2.2 million this season, $3.4 million in 2008 and $5 million in

The Mariners have an $8.6 million option for 2010, with a $1
million buyout.

All that cash will come in handy for a 29-year-old husband and
father of twin, 14-month-old girls. Only 12 months ago, he was the
setup man for Eddie Guardado.

"It's very nice to know that security-wise, you've reached
it," Putz said. "My wife, it was kind of hard for her to realize
what it meant. My girls don't really have a clue yet -- but they'll
be happier later in life."

The successful encounter with Bonds furthered Putz's belief that
he was indeed the Mariners' closer of the present and future.

At the time, Putz called it the "best at-bat I've ever had."

The Mariners now can look past potential salary arbitration with
Putz and anticipate more of what his 2006 season brought: the
fourth-highest save total in Seattle history. The 6-foot-5,
250-pound Putz also led AL relievers with 104 strikeouts,
second-most among relievers in team history to Bill Caudill's 111
in 1982, and walked only 13.

"J.J. was just nails for us last season," Mariners manager
Mike Hargrove said.

That nailed down the new contract, which keeps Seattle out of
the costly closer market for a while.

"There is no question in our minds that J.J. has established
himself as one of the best closers in baseball," said Lee
Pelekoudas, Mariners vice president and associate general manager.
"The ninth inning are the toughest three outs in baseball. Whether
it's guts or moxie or makeup -- whatever it is, J.J. has it. And
whenever you find it ... you run with it. That's what we intend to
do for the next three years."

Guardado was thrilled, too, according to Putz. He said the
fourth person he called after completing his new deal was Guardado
-- following his parents, wife and brother.

Guardado, now hoping to find a team for this season after
Cincinnati released him, taught Putz how to grip a split-fingered
fastball last spring for better movement. Guardado then faltered in
the season's first month. Putz took his job for good in May, and
Guardado was traded.

"J.J. Putz was one of the great stories of the 2006 baseball
season," Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi said. "He took over
the closer's role and was simply dominant. When he was called on he
really thrived in that ninth-inning pressure.

"It's a good feeling to know that J.J. is going to anchor our
bullpen for the foreseeable future."

Putz acknowledged "it's going to be weird" not having Rafael
Soriano as his setup man this season. The Mariners traded the
hard-throwing Soriano to the Atlanta Braves last month for Horacio
Ramirez, who is joining Seattle's rotation.

But Putz said the Mariners' signing this month of former Brave
Chris Reitsma as his new setup man is "going to be a big

On Tuesday, Putz asked for a raise from $415,000 to $3.6 million
when he swapped arbitration figures with the Mariners. The team
offered $2.6 million.