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For $4.3M, Borowski avoids arbitration

CHICAGO -- For the first time in his career, Chicago Cubs
closer Joe Borowski has some security.

Borowski agreed to a $4.3 million, two-year contract with the
Cubs on Thursday, avoiding arbitration.

"I don't think it's fully sunk in yet," he said. "Maybe when
it does, in about a week, my wife and I will go celebrate."

Borowski made $410,000 last season -- $110,000 over the minimum -- and would have been in for a big raise anyway after saving 33 games in his first season as a closer. But this contract gives the 32-year-old security he could only dream of when he was playing in
the Independent and Mexican leagues, just a few of the stops on his
long, hard road to the majors.

"I wanted to have a stable situation and I was fortunate the
Cubs rewarded me," Borowski said. "It just gives me a sense of
security that they think that much of me to do that when they
didn't have to."

But the Cubs like Borowski for what he's done. When closer
Antonio Alfonseca got hurt at the end of spring training, Borowski
told manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Larry Rothschild he
could do the job -- even though he'd only saved two games in his
career.

Borowski converted his first six save chances, pitching so well
Alfonseca never had the opportunity to get his job back. He was
33-of-37 in save opportunities, with 14 coming in games he entered
with a one-run lead, and he had a 2.63 ERA.

He held batters to a .207 average, and he struck out 66 while
walking just 19.

"There's nothing not to like about Joe," Cubs general manager
Jim Hendry said. "He's a great competitor, he did a heck of job
for us last year. He's had two good years back-to-back for us.

"He's a very valuable guy to the ballclub, on and off the
field. He's a tremendous human being, and we're thrilled to reward
him for his outstanding efforts."

A high school All-American in New Jersey, Borowski was drafted
by the Chicago White Sox in 1989. He bounced around the minors for
six years before finally making it to the majors with the Baltimore
Orioles in 1995.

Though he had a 1.23 ERA in six relief appearances for the
Orioles, they traded him to Atlanta in the offseason. Borowski
shuffled from team to team over the next few years, getting a
call-up here and there but never enough time to prove himself. When
the Cincinnati Reds cut him during spring training in 2000, he went
to the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League, but found
his heart wasn't really in it.

He gave baseball one last try, going to Monterrey in the Mexican
League. Not only did Borowski rediscover his love for the game, he
attracted the eyes of the Cubs. Signed as a free agent before
spring training, Borowski was the last player added to Chicago's
roster before the 2002 season.

He's turned out to be a deal. He's Chicago's most reliable
reliever over the past two years, going 11-14 with a 3.41 ERA and
35 saves.

"It says everything about him," Hendry said of Borowski's
perseverance. "That's one of the reasons we felt so good about
Joe. We felt we wanted to give Joe some security, which he's never
had. He's been through every possible tough scenario a man could go
through to achieve success in the major leagues.

"I think this is really the ideal deal for everyone."

Though the Cubs signed former Minnesota closer LaTroy Hawkins as
a free agent last month, Borowski will begin the season as the
closer. He will earn $2 million this year and $2.3 million in 2005,
with performance bonuses available based on games finished.

Borowski said he doesn't care what job he has, just as long as
he's pitching.

Hendry said. "This is really the ideal deal for everyone."