Putz agrees to three-year contract

Closer Putz agrees to three-year deal

SEATTLE -- When J.J. Putz finally reached his former teammate and good friend Eddie Guardado by phone earlier this week, Putz didn't waste time with any ordinary salutation.

Instead, Putz offered but one word.

"The first thing he said was 'Thanks,'" Guardado said on Wednesday. "He told me thanks for everything before he told me he got a long-term deal. That really touched me -- I told him it couldn't have happened to a better person."

Guardado was fourth on Putz's must-call list this week after the 29-year-old closer agreed to a three-year contract Wednesday worth $13.1 million with a team option for the 2010 season.

Putz phoned Guardado right after calling his parents, wife and brother.

Yes, Guardado means that much to Putz, which might seem odd to an outsider. It was Putz who assumed the closer's role in 2006 after a sequence of early-season missteps by Guardado, who was traded in July to Cincinnati.

"Eddie was kind of a like a big brother to me," Putz said. "... He took me under his wing. More than anything, he took care of the mental side of this job. If you don't have a short-term memory, it will eat you alive. That was one of the things that he preached to me and the other guys in the bullpen."

With Guardado as his resident mentor and armed with a fastball that ran in the high 90s and a devastating split-finger fastball, Putz saved 36 games last season despite not taking over the job until the first week of May.

"J.J. was just nails for us last season," Seattle manager Mike Hargrove said. "One of the things I really admired was his willingness to take the ball whenever we needed him to."

On his way to becoming one of the most-feared closers in the American League, Putz led all American League relievers with 104 strikeouts against only 13 walks while pitching in a career-best 72 games.

"J.J. Putz was one of the great stories of the 2006 baseball season," Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said. "He took over the closer's role and was simply dominant. When he was called on, he really thrived in that ninth-inning pressure."

In order to thrive in that pressure-packed environment, Putz leaned on every bit of advice Guardado could impart to him. Even after Guardado was traded, the two kept in touch by cell phone during the season.

Along the way, Putz's confidence soared. He saved seven games in June, posting a 0.75 ERA. On June 16, before a crowd of 41,133 at Safeco Field, Putz earned the save in a 5-4 victory over the Giants by getting Barry Bonds looking at a called third strike on a nasty split-finger. That came right after blowing a 98 mph fastball past Bonds.

"I don't know what it is, but the ninth inning is definitely different," Putz said. "I think there's something with the energy in the stadium. I live for that. I think that it's the best thing in the world. For some reason, those are three hard outs to get."

Putz's mulit-year deal was first floated in November but really only started to gain steam in the past 10 days, according to assistant general manager Lee Pelekoudas. On Tuesday, Putz's agent, Craig Landis, submitted an arbitration salary request of $3.6 million, while the Mariners countered with $2.6 million.

Pelekoudas said that was simply a formality of arbitration and that the parameters of the deal were well in the works by then. By avoiding salary arbitration with Putz, the Mariners signed all three of their arbitration-eligible players -- Putz, Ben Broussard and Horacio Ramirez.

Bavasi has yet to go to arbitration in his nine years as a general manager, the past three with the Mariners.

According to the Associated Press, Putz will earn $2.2 million in 2007, $3.4 million in 2008 and $5 million in 2009. He receives a $1.5 million signing bonus and the Mariners have an $8.6 million option for 2010, with a $1 million buyout.

Putz, who earned $415,000 last season, was happy to stay with the only organization he has ever known.

"I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to be here three more years," Putz said. "I love the city. I love this team. The fans are great here. Everyone that I've played with that's left can't wait to get back here."

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