NEW YORK — Dmitri Young was signed to a minor league contract in February as a short-term replacement plan for the Washington Nationals.
Yesterday, the veteran first baseman officially signed a two-year, $10 million contract extension that ensures he"ll be part of this organization"s long-term plan.
"I"m not sure it would have been a decision we would have made three months ago," team president Stan Kasten said. "But it was the right one right now."
Young, 33, had simply become too valuable to the Nationals since making the Opening Day roster and playing his way back into All-Star form after a tumultuous year of off-field problems.
So even though Washington expects first baseman Nick Johnson to return from a broken leg next season and reassume his starting role, the club felt it was worth it to retain Young through 2009. Team officials wouldn"t speculate where he"ll play once Johnson returns, but it appears he"ll be given a chance to play left field or come off the bench.
"Right now, I"m going to be at first base, and then we have to cross that bridge," Young said, adding: "I"ll go to the outfield."
The decision to re-sign Young was seen in some circles as evidence the Nationals question whether Johnson will ever return to his pre-injury form. With time running out to make a comeback this year, Johnson is uncertain when he"ll be back in the major leagues.
Manager Manny Acta, though, made it clear he expects his regular first baseman to return to form eventually.
"I think all he needs is a little bit more time," Acta said. "I"ve already seen him run the bases close to where he could be, and I"ve seen him take ground balls. He"s just got a few little things to get out of the way to be able to play. No, I have no doubt that Nick is going to be back at the level of Nick Johnson."
Wherever he ends up, Young will be one of the Nationals" highest-paid players after making just $500,000 this season. He"ll earn $5 million in both 2008 and 2009, and his contract includes a $6 million option for 2010 that becomes guaranteed if he makes 500 plate appearances in 2009 or a combined 900 plate appearances in 2008 and 2009.
Jim Bowden listened to trade offers for Young in advance of Tuesday"s non-waiver deadline, but with no team willing to meet the Washington general manager"s asking price, negotiations for a contract extension heated up. Both sides said it didn"t take long to agree to terms.
"This is an organization that believed in me when my chips were down," said Young, who entered the nightcap of yesterday"s doubleheader against the New York Mets hitting .331. "I love the direction the organization is going here, and I want to be a part of it."
Young is the second veteran to sign a two-year extension this week, joining infielder Ronnie Belliard. These weren"t the kind of moves the Nationals were expected to make at this stage of their rebuilding plan, but Kasten said both players were deemed important pieces for the franchise now and in the future.
"You need solid, veteran leadership," Kasten said. "You can"t just have just kids if you want to win. This week, we"ve been able to retain real, quality veteran leaders. That"s a real plus for us. It says a lot, I think, for our organization."