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Reds sign Harang to four-year deal

Reds sign Harang to four-year deal

CINCINNATI -- To land good pitching this winter, many teams were willing to overpay big-time. Some astronomical contract signings came as a result.

On Tuesday, the Reds locked up a quality pitcher and did it at a relative bargain when ace starter Aaron Harang was signed to a four-year, $36.5 million contract that avoided arbitration. It was believed to be the largest contract given to a pitcher in Reds history.

"It's certainly a commitment from ownership that we're willing to step up and keep a guy like Aaron Harang for the foreseeable future," Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "We're very excited. It's a big day. I think it sends a heck of a message to our fans and our players. It says a lot for ownership to make this kind of commitment."

Harang will earn $4.25 million in 2007, $6.75 million in 2008, $11 million in 2009 and $12.5 million in 2010. There is also a $12.75 million club option for 2011 that carries a $2 million buyout. The option year base salary can increase to $13 million if the right-hander works 210 innings in 2010. If he's traded, the option becomes mutual for $14 million with a $2.5 million buyout.

Coming off the best season of his career, Harang went 16-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 36 games, including 35 starts, in 2006. Part of a solid 1-2 rotation combo with Bronson Arroyo, the 28-year-old Harang was among the National League's most consistent pitchers, with 234 1/3 innings worked. He led the NL with 216 strikeouts and six complete games and was also tied for the league lead in victories.

With Arroyo already signed through 2008, Cincinnati will have a proven top-of-the-rotation for at least two seasons.

The deal eliminates Harang's final two years of arbitration eligibility and up to three free-agent years. With one look at the contracts given to comparable pitchers -- such as Gil Meche's five year, $55 million free-agent deal with the Royals -- it appears that Harang gave up a chance for a much bigger payday in two years.

For the native and resident of San Diego, that didn't compare to having happiness and security. Harang and his wife, Jen, welcomed a new baby girl during the offseason.

"I did see a lot of ridiculous numbers come out this offseason," Harang said. "But I like the city of Cincinnati. It's a very humble, hard-working city. I work hard every time I go on the mound and get the ball. My wife and I know the city is different and a change from Southern California, but it's a good change. We're excited to be here."

Harang also liked the direction the club was headed, led by Krivsky and owner/chief executive officer Bob Castellini.

"They did a lot last year to try and improve us from Spring Training on and past the trade deadline," said Harang, who broke into the Majors in 2002 with the Athletics before he was traded to the Reds on July 30, 2003, for outfielder Jose Guillen.

Preliminary talks about a new contract for Harang began last summer between Krivsky and agents Sam and Seth Levinson. Krivsky said that negotiations hit a stalemate and didn't really heat up again until arbitration figures were exchanged last month.

Harang, who made $2.35 million last season, was seeking $5.5 million for next season, while the Reds counter-offered $4.25 million. But there was never any intention for the talks to be focused on a one-year contract.

"It was strictly a multiyear deal from the beginning," Krivsky said. "You try to make intelligent decisions and decisions that make sense all the way around. We arrived at a contract that both sides were happy with."

"It all happened so fast this past week," Harang said. "It's a relief now for me. I know I'm going to be here a while now."

Less than an hour before Tuesday's press conference at Great American Ball Park, Krivsky received an arbitration briefing via fax from the Levinsons. The agents pointed out that since 1960, only eight NL pitchers led the league in both wins and strikeouts during a season. They were Harang, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Dwight Gooden, Steve Carlton (who did it twice), Tom Seaver, Sandy Koufax (three times) and Don Drysdale.

No Reds pitcher had led in wins and strikeouts since Ewell Blackwell in 1947, and no Reds pitcher over the past two seasons has approached Harang's consistency. At 28, he appears to be heading into the prime of his career.

"The man just keeps getting better and better," Krivsky said of Harang. "He keeps setting the bar higher each year."

The Reds now have just over $65 million committed in contracts for next season. The figure should easily approach $75 million when the one-year contracts of the organization's under-three-year players are finalized over the next month. The club's 2006 payroll was in the $60 million range.

"There are two reasons why you get excited about keeping a player of Aaron's caliber for such a long period of time," Castellini said. "No. 1 is the talent and experience. Secondly, it's the makeup. Aaron typifies the character and makeup that we want on our ballclub. He's a leader by example as well as having all the other qualities of leadership. And he's a winner."

Mark Sheldon 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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