Morneau agrees to $4.5 million deal, avoids arbitration

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.

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

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).