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Friday, March 16
Sosa gets $72M extension

Fri, March 16
The Cubs are signing Sammy Sosa now because they couldn't afford to open this season with Sosa unsigned -- it would have been a major distraction to have his status up in the air. GM Andy MacPhail knew if Sosa or the team got off to a slow start and Sosa was still unsigned, it could have sunk the entire season. They had to sign or trade him before Opening Day -- and other than the Yankee deal that fell apart last summer, they never got any great offers to trade him.

Also, after having Kirby Puckett in Minnesota, MacPhail understands the importance of star players with enormous popularity. Even though Sosa and Puckett aren't the same kind of player, a superstar who brings people out to the ballpark cannot be underestimated. MacPhail knew it was important to keep Sosa in Chicago -- where he's always wanted to be -- and get it done before the season started.

The Cubs still have a lot of question marks on their team. The outfield is uncertain, given Rondell White's health. Of course, how well Kerry Wood comes back is a more than significant factor. Plus, they've got a group of talented young hitters like Hee Seop Choi, Corey Patterson and Roosevelt Brown whose development they will be monitoring. With these young players, including a healthy Wood, the Cubs are going in the right direction. The Sosa signing just gets them a little further down the path.

CHICAGO – After putting up some pretty incredible numbers the past three years, Sammy Sosa has the contract extension to match.

Sosa signed a deal with the Chicago Cubs on Friday that extends his contract for up to four years and is worth $72 million.

"I'm very happy. I always said I wanted to finish my career here and Chicago has been great to me," Sosa said, surrounded by his family at a news conference at the Cubs' spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz.

"When I retire, I'm going to retire with a Chicago Cubs hat to the Hall of Fame."

If Sosa puts up big numbers, he would get $32.75 million over two years and have the chance to negotiate a new contract again.

His deal includes a $6 million signing bonus, $12 million in 2002 and $13 million in 2003. He can either terminate the contract after that season and become a free agent, or exercise player options for $16 million in 2004 and $17 million in 2005.

Sosa also gets a $3.5 million severance payment when the contract ends, but that figure is cut in half if he leaves after the 2003 season. If he exercises the player options, the Cubs get an $18 million team option for 2005 with a $4.5 million buyout.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the deal was originally set to be announced on Wednesday but was pushed back until it was approved by the Tribune Company, which owns the team. The Tribune said that Sosa originally was seeking a six-year deal worth $110 million.

With an average salary of $18 million a year, Sosa will have the fourth-highest average salary in baseball, trailing only Alex Rodriguez ($25.2 million), Manny Ramirez ($20 million) and Derek Jeter ($18.9 million).

However, because none of Sosa's money is deferred, taking discounting into account, he'll have the second-most lucrative average salary.

"When the player really wants to stay and the club wants him, you find a way to work it out," said Andy MacPhail, the Cubs president and general manager, who negotiated the contract with agents Tom Reich and Adam Katz.

"Absent A-Rod, on an average annual value basis, this is the second-highest contract in baseball, as it should be, based on what Sammy's been able to achieve over his career."

Sosa's been one of biggest baseball stars since his home run derby with Mark McGwire in 1998, which electrified the nation and helped bring baseball out of its post-strike slump. McGwire hit a single-season record 70 homers that year, while Sosa finished with 66. He was the NL MVP that year.

Over the past three years, he's hit 179 homers, batted .305 and averaged 146 RBI. His 50 homers last season led the majors, and he joined McGwire and Babe Ruth as the only players with more than two 50-homer seasons.

Last year, despite distractions over his contract and a possible trade, he hit a career-high .320 and drove in 138 runs. He also hit 38 doubles and drew 91 walks.

"What this man has accomplished over the last three years ... is really remarkable," MacPhail said. "We're talking Babe Ruth. There are precious few guys in the game who have accomplished what Sammy has accomplished.

"He's extraordinarily important to this franchise."

And now he's going to be extraordinarily well-paid. Even McGwire isn't getting this much money.

McGwire and the St. Louis Cardinals agreed on a two-year contract extension earlier this month that will pay him $14 million in 2002 and $16 million in 2003. McGwire did the deal without an agent.

"It's not for the money. ... Money is not an issue for me," insisted Sosa, who's in the last year of a $42.5 million, four-year deal. "Whatever it was, I'd still play the same way because I love this game."

And Sosa does give the Cubs their money's worth. Besides being one of baseball's most productive players, he's one of the most durable. He's played at least 156 games the past four years, and played in 162 in 1997 and 1999.

He doesn't even take days off in spring training. After arriving fashionably late this year as usual, he was in the lineup five days later even though he hadn't taken live batting practice yet. He homered on the first pitch he saw.

"What he's done the last three years, those are astronomical numbers," manager Don Baylor said. "I'm glad I can write him down in the lineup every day. He's a guy you can depend on. I depend on him every day."

Sosa said he's relieved he won't have to worry about his contract this year. He went through one of the most miserable months of his career last June after giving the Cubs a deadline to reach an extension or trade him.

The Cubs came close to letting him go, but a deal with the New York Yankees fell through. With the tension over the negotiations affecting his production, Sosa announced after the All-Star break that he wanted to stay in Chicago and would block any trades.

"This is as good as it can get between the player and a team and a city," Reich said. "You just don't want to be the one to prematurely end something this good. It's like a good marriage. If you can't work stuff out, shame on you."

Though negotiations got testy at times during the offseason, Sosa said he never doubted that a deal would get done.

"Today is one of the greatest days for me and my family," he said, a big smile on his face. "Now I can go home, sleep relaxed and play baseball. My goal now is to win. My goal now is last to first."

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The Stark Report

 Sammy Sosa is pleased to have contract talks behind him.
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 Karl Ravech and the Baseball Tonight crew discuss the new contract with Sammy Sosa.
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 Sammy Sosa wants to retire as a Cub.
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 GM Andy MacPhail says the Cubs will be able to put good players around Sammy Sosa.
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