Third baseman's deal largest in team history

PHOENIX -- Eric Chavez had no desire to follow Jason Giambi
and Miguel Tejada out the Oakland Athletics' revolving door.

The A's finally retained one of their stars, signing the third
baseman to a six-year contract extension worth $66 million on
Thursday. Though it's the biggest deal in franchise history, it's
slightly less than the probable market value for a player with
Chavez's combination of statistics, youth and potential.

But Chavez wants to be a leader and a cornerstone for the A's,
who have won three AL West titles during four straight playoff
seasons -- and he was willing to make a small financial sacrifice
for the chance.

"It's a real honor standing here, considering the guys that
have gone by, and I'm the one standing here," Chavez said. "It's
kind of unbelievable, really. ... I'm grateful that they see me as
a centerpiece."

Chavez, a three-time Gold Glove winner and the AL's top
power-hitting third baseman last season, would have been eligible
for free agency after the season.

But instead of allowing the 26-year-old infielder to follow MVPs
Giambi and Tejada out of Oakland, general manager Billy Beane
worked out a deal with Dave Stewart, Chavez's agent and Beane's
former teammate with the A's.

"With Chavvy, it was never about being the richest guy in the
world," Beane said. "In my opinion, with all due respect to Mr.
Rolen in St. Louis, this is the best third baseman in baseball.
You're going to make us all look very bright over the next few

The deal includes a $12.5 million club option for 2011 with a $3
million buyout. Chavez will make $5.2 million this year under his
previous contract.

Last season, he had 29 homers and 101 RBI -- both tops among AL
third basemen. He also led the A's with a .282 average while
establishing career highs with 166 hits, 94 runs and five triples.
He has 134 homers over his first five major league seasons while
surviving the growing pains of breaking into the majors at 20.

Manager Ken Macha, the A's bench coach for four seasons until
his promotion before last season, gave Chavez what probably was his
first major-league nickname: Will Hunting, after the math prodigy
played by Matt Damon in his Oscar-winning movie.

"When you lay out all the ways he can impact a game, he's got
it all," Macha said. "He's going to be a plus guy in the field.
If I give him the green light a little more, he can steal in double
digits, no problem. Obviously he can hurt you with the home run.
He's got a chance to be a great player."

Chavez also is a favorite of A's owner Steve Schott, who has
been criticized by fans for the tight budget that led to the
departures of Giambi and Tejada. Oakland also was unable to re-sign
free agents Johnny Damon, Keith Foulke or Jason Isringhausen --
while others, such as Ramon Hernandez or Billy Koch, were traded
before their salaries became prohibitive.

"I guess the third time's the charm," Schott said. "Eric is
the kind of person we want to keep around here for the long-term.
We are definitely out here to keep quality players."

The deal should help to convince star pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder
and Barry Zito to stay when their contracts expire. Hudson
is signed through 2005, while Mulder and Zito will be free agents
after the 2006 season -- and the A's plan to make serious attempts
to re-sign all three.

In exchange for the hometown discount, Chavez got one of just
three contracts of six years or longer given out since last season:
Tejada and St. Louis' Albert Pujols also signed long-term deals.

Chavez's contract even contains a limited no-trade clause -- the
same sticking point that kept Giambi from re-signing during the
spring training before his final season in Oakland. Giambi instead
got a $120 million, seven-year deal from the Yankees.

"The only way you can really know how much money you could have
got is if you take the chance to be free," Stewart said. "In our
mind, it wasn't really worth it. You never know where you're going
to end up. I'm not sure that Miguel Tejada is more happy in

"Here, you have a place that you know, you have teammates that
you've been around in a place that you've grown up -- and on top of
that, as (former A's teammate) Tony Phillips would say, you've got
a pretty good piece of pie."