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03/13/10 4:56 PM ET

Twins reward Span with five-year contract

$16.5 million deal also includes club option for 2015 season

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This offseason, the Twins rewarded Denard Span for his tremendous 2009 season by giving him the everyday job in center field. Now they've rewarded him with something else: a long-term contract.

The club announced Saturday that it had signed Span to a five-year, $16.5 million contract. The deal includes a $9 million club option for the 2015 season with a $500,000 buyout.

"We go through a pretty good checklist of criteria before we enter discussions with a player about a long-term contract, and he has certainly been an integral part of our ballclub for the last two seasons," general manager Bill Smith said Saturday. "We thought the time was right. It's a big deal for him. It provides him with a lot of security. It provides us some certainty with our leadoff hitter and center fielder."

Span, 26, wasn't eligible for arbitration for two more years. This deal will cover the rest of the time he is under club control, and it could also buy out his first year of free agency if the club picks up the option.

Under his new contract, Span will make $750,000 this season, $1 million in 2011, $3 million in '12, $4.75 million in '13 and $6.5 million in '14.

"It shocked me a little when they came to me at the beginning of Spring Training to talk about this," Span said. "It's something that my agent and I, we were prepared for the scenario and we talked about it. But when they came and threw the idea up in the air, it was just a good feeling. It's just a good feeling to have something like this done."

Last season, Span emerged as one of the top leadoff men in the league, batting .311 with a .392 on-base percentage. He hit eight homers along with a league-leading 10 triples and 68 RBIs in 145 games for the Twins while providing solid defense at all three spots in the outfield.

Span became the Twins' everyday center fielder when the club traded Carlos Gomez to the Brewers in November, and it's a spot that the organization expects him to occupy for the foreseeable future.

"I'm very happy for the young man," manager Ron Gardenhire said in reference to Span's new contract. "He provides stability at the top of our lineup and will help to solidify our outfield for years to come."

The team's center fielder has gotten off to a solid start this spring, having reached base in the first inning of all six games he has played, and has provided even more examples as to why he's an ideal fit for that leadoff role.

"He takes good at-bats, he hits for average, he's drawn walks -- he does everything you want a leadoff guy to do," assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "He's got speed, and I think he's going to improve his stealing percentage."

Drafted by the Twins in the first round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Span has a career batting average of .305 (282-for-925) with 32 doubles, 17 triples, 14 home runs and 115 RBIs in 238 games.

Span's success as a leadoff hitter came as somewhat of a surprise based on the numbers he put up prior to reaching the Majors. In six Minor League seasons, Span compiled a career average of .287 with a .357 on-base percentage. Span's struggles at Triple-A Rochester in 2007, when he batted .267 with a .323 OBP, led the Twins to seek out other center-field options to help replace departed free agent Torii Hunter.

Span began the 2008 season in the Minors, and Gomez was given the starting spot in center. But Span took advantage once he arrived at the Majors that year, batting .294 and finishing sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting. The outfielder then avoided the dreaded sophomore slump last season as he saw his numbers improve. Only Derek Jeter (.409) and Chone Figgins (.395) had higher on-base percentages as leadoff hitters than Span did last season.

"Everybody knows all I had to go through to get here," Span said. "It wasn't an easy road to get here. I just want to be able to relax now. For the last four, five years I've put a lot of stress on myself. I just want to go out there and have fun. I want to play the game as if I was 4, 5 years old and playing Little League again. That was one of the reasons why I took the security. I want to go out there and take myself out of it and put the team first."

Span's contract follows the four-year, $14 million extension that the club gave pitcher Nick Blackburn this week, and for the Twins, it was another chance to lock up a player who they feel is an up-and-coming young star.

"He's going to keep working to continue to get better," Antony said. "He has the drive and determination to be an elite-type player. I think he's going to keep trying to work toward that. He had the exact right answer this morning when he came up to sign that contract. He said, 'Now what I need to do is outperform this contract.'"

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