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Nationals lock up Kearns

- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

Another young cornerstone of the Washington Nationals future is under contract to play in the District for at least the next three years.

Yesterday, the Nationals signed right fielder Austin Kearns to three-year, $16.5 million deal with a team option for the 2010 season, and avoided going to salary arbitration and two years of free agency.

Kearns' option for 2010 is worth $10 million.

"It's important from the club's perspective that we keep our good, young players," Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. "He's only 26 years old. His best years are ahead of him. This is a player that is very strong, he has an ability to drive in runs, move the runners over, hit the ball out of the ballpark, and like I said, his best years are ahead of him."

This signing leaves just right-hander John Patterson and closer Chad Cordero as the remaining Nationals still eligible for arbitration.

"Just because you don't hear about something going on, doesn't mean [nothing is going on]," Nationals president Stan Kasten said of on-going talks with Patterson and Cordero.

Kearns is coming off his best season in the majors when he batted .264 and established career highs with 24 home runs, 86 RBI and 76 walks in 150 games with Washington and Cincinnati. The Nationals acquired Kearns along with infielder Felipe Lopez and reliever Ryan Wagner from the Reds in a eight-player trade on July 13 in exchange for relievers Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, shortstop Royce Clayton and utility infielder Brendan Harris.

The talent that the Nationals have already assembled partially influenced Kearns to sign a deal with the Nationals and bypass potential free agency.

"I can remember, I can't tell you who we were playing, but one of the first things when myself and Felipe were here, I remember after a game we won and we're walking up through the tunnel and I said to Felipe, 'Man, there's some good players here. This is something that could be special,' " Kearns said.

Kearns joins catcher Brian Schneider and first baseman Nick Johnson as players who have avoided arbitration in the past year by signing long-term contracts with the Nationals. All three are signed through the 2009 season.

"This [signing] is very consistent with everything that we've been saying since the day we've arrived, and that is that we are trying to build this thing for long-term to sustain success," Kasten said. "We are eager to invest in long-term building blocks like today. We hope to acquire many more building blocks and invest in all of them."

In five seasons, Kearns has hit .265 average with 79 home runs and 299 RBI in 515 career games.

Kearns also named the Nationals strong fan support and his family's comfort level with the District area as factors in signing a long-term extension with the team.

Kearns will make $3.5 million this season, $5 million in 2008, and $8 million in 2009. Kearns said he and his wife, Abby, will start looking to purchase a house somewhere in the area.

At the end of last season, Kearns was involved in a nasty collision with Johnson on Sept. 23 at Shea Stadium. Johnson and Kearns collided on a shallow pop-up to right field by David Wright. Johnson broke his right femur (thigh) in the collision and appears doubtful to be fully recovered for Opening Day. Kearns played in just one game after the horrific collision because of general soreness.

"It was tough when it happened, how it all happened," Kearns said of his mental state afterward. "I've talked to Nick and text message him almost every day. I'm fine mentally, that's not going to be a problem at all."