Blackburn signs four-year deal with Twins
Contract also includes $8 million club option for 2014
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- One year after the Twins locked up pitcher Scott Baker with a four-year contract, Minnesota did the same on Sunday with another member of its starting staff.The Twins signed right-handed pitcher Nick Blackburn to a four-year, $14 million contract on Sunday. The deal also includes an $8 million club option for the 2014 season. "It was a great feeling," Blackburn said of the deal. "A couple of years ago, I didn't really think that would be an opportunity I would get. To get it done and get the security for my wife and I, and we have a baby on the way, it's great. It's a big step for us, and we couldn't be more excited." Blackburn, 28, has been a steady contributor in the Twins' rotation for the past two seasons. A 29th-round pick of the Twins in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, Blackburn was 11-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 33 starts for the Twins last season. He led Minnesota in innings pitched (205 2/3) and was second on the team in wins. While he battled knee problems during his Minor League career, Blackburn has proven to be durable. In his first two seasons in the Twins' rotation, Blackburn has pitched a total of 399 innings while posting a combined 22-22 record with a 4.04 ERA in 66 career starts for Minnesota. "It just kind of helps me relax knowing that they have a lot of confidence in me," Blackburn said. "They do see what has been going on the last couple years. They appreciate it and want to keep me around. There are great people all through the organization, and I'm glad to be here for the next four years, hopefully five." Blackburn's new contract will pay him $750,000 in 2010, $3 million in '11, $4.75 million in '12 and $5.5 million in '13. The starter was on pace to be eligible for arbitration following the 2010 season, so the contract buys out his three arbitration years. And should the Twins choose to pick up the option, it would also cover his first year of free agency. "As we went into the winter, we try and identify players that might be a good fit for a multiyear contract, and Nick certainly fit that bill," Twins general manager Bill Smith said. "He's had two remarkably consistent seasons. He threw 200 innings last year, and he's pitched a lot of big games for us over the last two years." Smith pointed to the one-game tiebreaker against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in 2008 as an example of what Blackburn has done in big games. In that contest, Blackburn allowed just one run over 6 1/3 innings, with the lone run coming on a Jim Thome homer, giving Chicago a 1-0 victory and the American League Central title. "He pitched a tremendous game in a big environment and on the road," Smith said. "I think that was a little bit of a breakout game for him."
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Blackburn's deal not only came on the same date -- March 7 -- as Baker's, it also was nearly identical in terms of its structure. Last year, the Twins signed Baker to a four-year, $15.25 million contract that included a fifth year and a $9.25 million club option for 2013."I don't think that's happened in the past too much," Blackburn said in regard to the type of deal Baker signed. "I think it showed the organization that they can get away with it a little bit and just opened the door for us younger guys. I'm glad that it did work out with Baker. I think if it wouldn't have happened, maybe [there] wouldn't have been an opportunity or offer for me." Smith acknowledged that the club has to look at each player individually when it comes to these types of long-term contracts, but that Baker and Blackburn were similar in terms of what they bring to the organization. "Both of these guys have been key guys for us, and we look forward to them remaining as key components of our starting rotation," Smith said. "We have a lot of confidence that Nick Blackburn cannot only handle this but can rise to the opportunity." Baker got off to a rough start in 2009 after signing his long-term deal. A stiff shoulder forced him to start the season on the disabled list, and he missed his opportunity to pitch on Opening Day. And after his first nine starts, he was 3-6 with a 6.32 ERA and 14 home runs allowed. On Sunday, Baker said that he believes the two-week contract negotiation last spring might have had an impact on his preparation. Although, he said that he didn't recognize it at the time. But Baker didn't feel that the additional expectations that come with signing such a contract played a role in his early struggles. As for Blackburn, Baker said he didn't think that the starter would be affected by his new contract and that's exactly what Blackburn himself is hoping. "I don't feel like it's necessary to add the extra pressure," Blackburn said. "It's obviously easier said than done. Hopefully, this will just help me relax and focus on pitching instead of having any concerns about the future or what happens if I get hurt or whatever." Blackburn's wife, Alicia, is due to give birth to their first child in late August. With the new contract and a baby on the way, the pitcher certainly has a lot of things to be thankful for in his life right now. And his teammates couldn't have been happier for him to sign such a deal. "He definitely deserves it," Baker said. "He's a mainstay in this rotation and a good teammate to this team. It makes sense to me." The Twins also announced on Sunday that they signed 20 other players to one-year deals, including leadoff hitter Denard Span and pitchers Kevin Slowey and Brian Duensing. All of the players on the Twins' 40-man roster are now signed for the 2010 season.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.