Mariners keep closer Putz through 2009

Updated: January 17, 2007, 11:16 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- J.J. Putz impressed at least one opponent in his debut season as Seattle's closer: Barry Bonds.

Putz cashed in on his breakout year Wednesday, agreeing to a $13.1 million, three-year contract with the Mariners, and fondly recalled his ninth-inning matchup with Bonds last spring.

"Anytime you get a guy like him out, it's going to help your confidence," Putz said. "I found out it's a lot of fun pitching in the ninth inning and being able to look forward to it every day."

With a rare Seattle sellout crowd roaring, Putz used a 98 mph fastball to set up the San Francisco slugger and then struck him out on a full-count splitter to end a 5-4 win on June 16.

"Man, that closer. He throws 98 miles per hour, then he drops that split on you? See you later," Bonds said after the game, smiling, shaking his head and then pantomiming a salute.

The Mariners rewarded Putz for saving 36 games on a last-place team in 2006, his second full year in the major leagues. They gave the right-hander a $1.5 million signing bonus plus base salaries of $2.2 million this season, $3.4 million in 2008 and $5 million in 2009.

The Mariners have an $8.6 million option for 2010, with a $1 million buyout.

All that cash will come in handy for a 29-year-old husband and father of twin, 14-month-old girls. Only 12 months ago, he was the setup man for Eddie Guardado.

"It's very nice to know that security-wise, you've reached it," Putz said. "My wife, it was kind of hard for her to realize what it meant. My girls don't really have a clue yet -- but they'll be happier later in life."

The successful encounter with Bonds furthered Putz's belief that he was indeed the Mariners' closer of the present and future.

At the time, Putz called it the "best at-bat I've ever had."

The Mariners now can look past potential salary arbitration with Putz and anticipate more of what his 2006 season brought: the fourth-highest save total in Seattle history. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Putz also led AL relievers with 104 strikeouts, second-most among relievers in team history to Bill Caudill's 111 in 1982, and walked only 13.

"J.J. was just nails for us last season," Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said.

That nailed down the new contract, which keeps Seattle out of the costly closer market for a while.

"There is no question in our minds that J.J. has established himself as one of the best closers in baseball," said Lee Pelekoudas, Mariners vice president and associate general manager. "The ninth inning are the toughest three outs in baseball. Whether it's guts or moxie or makeup -- whatever it is, J.J. has it. And whenever you find it ... you run with it. That's what we intend to do for the next three years."

Guardado was thrilled, too, according to Putz. He said the fourth person he called after completing his new deal was Guardado -- following his parents, wife and brother.

Guardado, now hoping to find a team for this season after Cincinnati released him, taught Putz how to grip a split-fingered fastball last spring for better movement. Guardado then faltered in the season's first month. Putz took his job for good in May, and Guardado was traded.

"J.J. Putz was one of the great stories of the 2006 baseball season," Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi said. "He took over the closer's role and was simply dominant. When he was called on he really thrived in that ninth-inning pressure.

"It's a good feeling to know that J.J. is going to anchor our bullpen for the foreseeable future."

Putz acknowledged "it's going to be weird" not having Rafael Soriano as his setup man this season. The Mariners traded the hard-throwing Soriano to the Atlanta Braves last month for Horacio Ramirez, who is joining Seattle's rotation.

But Putz said the Mariners' signing this month of former Brave Chris Reitsma as his new setup man is "going to be a big addition."

On Tuesday, Putz asked for a raise from $415,000 to $3.6 million when he swapped arbitration figures with the Mariners. The team offered $2.6 million.

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AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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