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Morneau, Cuddyer ink multiyear deals

Morneau, Cuddyer ink big deals

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins took a huge step in securing their future Friday by locking up two of their cornerstone players.

The club held a press conference Friday afternoon to announce it had reached multiyear contracts with first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielder Michael Cuddyer.

Morneau, the 2006 American League MVP, agreed to a six-year, $80 million contract which is the largest deal in Twins history. Cuddyer's deal is for three years and $24 million with a $10.5 million club option for 2011.

"These two guys are fixtures in our lineup and fixtures in our communities," Twins general manager Bill Smith said at the press conference. "They are leaders who have expressed a strong desire to remain in the Twins organization and we're thrilled about that."

The timing of the announcement coincided with the start of the team's annual TwinsFest and seemed to ease what has been an offseason of change in Minnesota. The club has endured plenty of departures including Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva and they are currently facing the possibility of a trade involving their ace, Johan Santana.

"Hopefully this is good news for the fans and gets them excited about baseball again, seeing that the team is willing to lock guys up," Morneau said.

This was not the first attempt by the club to sign these two players to multiyear contracts.

Last year, the Twins and Morneau tried to work on a long-term deal before signing him to a one-year, $4.5 million contract in early February. The two sides re-opened contract negotiations during Spring Training, but talks were then halted in March.

Morneau's agent, Mark Pieper, said that he could immediately sense a change in the Twins approach to multiyear negotiations this time around.

"No question there was clearly a different goal, which was they really wanted to get this thing done," Pieper said. "Maybe last year they didn't have the finances or the go-ahead. But it was a completely different mentality."

Assistant general manager Rob Antony, who negotiated both deals, said that it was the team's owners, the Pohlads, who helped make the extra push to get these deals done and keep their homegrown players.

Both Morneau and Cuddyer were drafted by and developed in the Twins organization. The club's front office acknowledged that the club has developed core groups of young players like those two before, only to lose them to free agency. Much like the group of players who came up in the early part of the decade and have since left -- Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones and most recently Hunter.

"This was about ownership stepping up," Antony said. "Everyone knows that Torii Hunter left and Carlos Silva signed with another team, but our ownership is committed to building a winner. They came to us and they thought the timing was right on this to lock up our core players. We don't want [these departures] to continue to happen."

The team's eagerness to get these deals done was also clear from the little time it took for the deals to be completed.

Both deals came together in the course of less than a week. And while Cuddyer and Morneau said they had talked a little bit about the status of their contract talks earlier in the week, neither knew until just two hours before the press conference that it was going to be a joint one.

"I found out it was a dual press conference when Justin called me just after his plane landed at 2:20 p.m. and congratulated me," Cuddyer said with a laugh. "I was excited for him and most importantly for our team. It's a great day."

Morneau and the Twins had agreed to a one-year, $7.4 million contract for '08 last Friday to avoid arbitration. He will still earn that amount next season, while making $10.6 million in '09, and $14 million in each of the final four years of the deal. Morneau also received a $6 million signing bonus.

The first baseman said that the breakdown of the contract was specifically done not to strap the team financially in the latter years of the deal.

"It will hopefully allow them to still sign players at that time," Morneau said. "So that we can continue to build a winning ballclub here."

Cuddyer, who had been the Twins' lone remaining arbitration-eligible player, is set to make salaries of $5 million this year, $6.75 million in 2009 and $8.5 million in 2010. He also gets a $2.75 million signing bonus as part of the deal.

This current deal will carry Cuddyer through at least his first year of free agency and possibly his second with the club option.

Security was a factor for Cuddyer, but more importantly he understands the impact his decision to stay might have on his future teammates.

"Everybody pretty much on that 2002 team is gone now and I've seen it all happen," Cuddyer said. "I'm one of the only ones still around, other than Juan [Rincon] and Johan.

"That's really why I wanted to make a conscious effort to try to stay. I love this organization and I love the fans. It's all I know. Hopefully it will be all I ever know."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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