- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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Dontrelle Willis reached agreement Monday with the Florida Marlins on a one-year, guaranteed $4.35 million contract, easily breaking the record for a starting pitcher in his first year of salary arbitration.
Willis' deal includes an additional $200,000 in incentive bonuses that could bring the overall package to $4.55 million.
Willis, 24, went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA last year and finished second to St. Louis' Chris Carpenter in balloting for the National League Cy Young Award. His deal surpasses the previous high of $3.825 million by Toronto's Roy Halladay in 2003.
"I'm kind of dumbfounded," Willis told ESPN.com. "I graduated from high school in 2000 and I'm a millionaire right now. I never even dreamed of being in this situation."
Dodgers closer Eric Gagne and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter both made $5 million in their first year of arbitration eligibility. That's the highest figure ever for a one-year deal regardless of position category.
The Marlins have elected to go year-by-year with Willis, who has a career record of 46-27 over three seasons, rather than try to sign him to a long-term deal. Agent Matt Sosnick was scheduled to exchange salary arbitration figures with the club Tuesday. By getting the contract done Monday, Willis avoided a hearing with the club.
Sosnick, who also represents Marlins starters Josh Johnson and Scott Olsen and prospect Ricky Nolasco, negotiated the deal over the course of 10 conversations with Florida general manager Larry Beinfest.
"Our conversations were never heated or frustrated," Sosnick said. "We just tried to make progress with each call. Neither of us felt like we had to go down to the last five minutes tomorrow to try to make a point. Ultimately, it was Dontrelle's decision. He was anxious to have this put behind him."
Jerry Crasnick covers Major League Baseball for ESPN Insider.
1mJesse Rogers and Jerry Crasnick
20hTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com