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Marlins, Willis agree to deal prior to exchanging figures

Dontrelle Willis reached agreement Monday on a one-year, guaranteed $6.45 million contract with the Florida Marlins, a day before he was scheduled to exchange salary arbitration figures with the club.




Willis' deal includes $50,000 in incentives for games started, a "sizable" advance on his salary, and bonuses if he makes the All-Star team or wins the Cy Young Award, Silver Slugger or National League Most Valuable Player Award, according to his agent, Matt Sosnick.

If Willis stays healthy, he will be in position to equal the $6.5 million salary earned by the Chicago Cubs' Carlos Zambrano in 2006. Freddy Garcia's $6.875 million award with Seattle in 2003 is the largest ever for a starting pitcher in his second year of salary arbitration.

"I'm very happy," Willis told The Associated Press on Monday night. "How can you not be? I'm very appreciative to go out and have the opportunity to play baseball."

Willis is Florida's franchise leader with 58 victories and 15 complete games, and ranks second on the team's career innings pitched list behind A.J. Burnett. He won 22 games and was runner-up to St. Louis' Chris Carpenter in the 2005 NL Cy Young Award race, and went 12-12 with a 3.87 ERA for the Marlins last season while ranking fifth in the league with 223 1/3 innings pitched.

Willis, one of baseball's most popular young players, is active in community work in South Florida and received the Marlins' Good Guy Award from the local media in 2006. But his image took a hit Dec. 22 when he was arrested on drunken-driving charges outside a nightclub in Miami's South Beach. Last week Willis entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of driving under the influence.

Sosnick, who also represents Marlins starters Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen and Ricky Nolasco, said the off-field incident had no impact on his negotiations with the club. Last year Willis made a base salary of $4.35 million to break the record for a first-year arbitration eligible starter held by Toronto's Roy Halladay.

"We feel like Dontrelle should be compensated at the top of his class each year," Sosnick said. "He certainly puts in the effort during the season and the offseason, and it speaks to the fact that he should be the highest-paid player at his position."

The Marlins finished with a respectable 78-84 record last year despite an Opening Day payroll of just south of $15 million, easily the lowest in baseball. The team is also in the middle of negotiations with third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who is in line for a huge raise in his first year of salary arbitration.

Jerry Crasnick covers Major League Baseball for ESPN Insider.