LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Detroit Tigers are close to signing third baseman Brandon Inge to a four-year contract extension.
The deal will be worth $24 million and could be announced within the coming week.
Inge, 29, made $3 million this year and probably would have made $4 million to $5 million in 2007, his final year of salary arbitration. He was scheduled to enter free agency next year but should remain a Tiger through the prime of his career. He's expected to remain at third base over the lifetime of the contract, rather than return to catcher, the position at which he broke into the major leagues.
The contract's average annual value falls between recent free-agent deals for third basemen Pedro Feliz (one year, $5.1 million with the Giants) and Aramis Ramirez (five years, $75.5 million with the Cubs).
The signing could reveal much about the manner in which the Tigers plan to retain players on the pennant-winning roster. It's believed the team will consider contract extensions for right-hander Jeremy Bonderman and shortstop Carlos Guillen before the end of this off-season. Guillen will be a free agent after next season, Bonderman after 2008.
Inge is coming off a year in which he established career highs with 27 home runs and 83 RBIs. His batting average dropped slightly (.261 to .253) compared to his 2005 numbers, but so did his strikeouts (140 to 128).
Of equal importance, he improved greatly as a third baseman. Although he committed 22 errors during the regular season, he also led all American League third basemen with 398 assists - evidence of his superior range. Manager Jim Leyland has consistently lauded his defense, saying this season: "I don't know anybody that throws it better than Brandon Inge."
Inge also performed well in the postseason, hitting .273 with one home run and four RBIs. His average increased with each series, culminating with a .353 clip (6-for-17) in the World Series, although he committed three errors in the five-game loss to St. Louis.
Inge would have been one of several prominent Tigers to enter free agency after the 2007 season. The others are Guillen, first baseman Sean Casey, and pitchers Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers. The team also has a $13-million option on catcher Pudge Rodriguez for 2008.
Bonderman, left-hander Mike Maroth and leftfielder Craig Monroe will be free agents after 2008.
"These are guys coming up for free agency a couple years from now, and, hey, I want them to max out their financial power," Leyland said Wednesday. "I hope it's with us."
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