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Tigers, Willis agree to extension

Tigers, Willis agree to extension

DETROIT -- Dave Dombrowski understood the risk, but with the dollars that quality pitchers are earning these days, the Tigers general manager called signing left-hander Dontrelle Willis to a three-year extension worth $29 million on Thursday a risk worth taking.

The deal includes a bonus for as much as $500,000 if the 25-year-old Willis, who's coming off a 10-15 season with a career-high 5.17 ERA, wins the Cy Young Award.

But for Dombrowski and the Tigers, signing Willis was less about the bonus and awards, and more about agreeing to terms with a pitcher who had expressed an interest in wearing the team's Olde English D long term.

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"This is an opportunity I never could've dreamt of," Willis said. "For me and my family, this is truly a blessing."

His contract takes Willis, whom the Tigers picked up in an eight-player trade earlier this month with the Florida Marlins, through his arbitration years. If he stays healthy and pitches as well as he's done through most of his career, he'll be eligible for free agency after the 2010 season, said Matt Sosnick, Willis' agent.

"The three-year deal was something we were both comfortable with," Sosnick said. "The issue became: what was the dollar amount going to be?"

Sosnick stressed that Willis wanted the security of a longer-term deal. He also wanted to end the constant rumors about his being traded, rumors that had dogged Willis for the past couple of seasons in Miami.

"He was consistent on getting a deal done when he came here," Sosnick said. "It's a client's choice."

The framework for the deal was hammered out over the past week, which the two sides agreed to Wednesday. It became final after Willis went through a physical. The Tigers announced the deal with a press conference at Comerica Park.

Signing Willis to such a deal shows that the Tigers believe he's a complement to the other young pitchers on their staff. He will join Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson, as well as veteran warhorse Kenny Rogers, in filling out manager Jim Leyland's rotation next season.

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"They've shown a lot of love to take a chance and even offer me a deal," Willis said. "It shows how much respect they have for me and my abilities.

"So, again, I'm gonna do everything I can to not only win a championship but uphold this team and make them proud."

With Willis signed, Dombrowski can set his sights on All-Star third baseman Miguel Cabrera, another piece in the trade with the Marlins.

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

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