SEATTLE (AP) -The Seattle Mariners and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt agreed Wednesday to a multimillion-dollar, three-year contract extension.
Exact terms were not immediately known, but it will be a substantial raise from the $400,000 Betancourt is making this season.
“It is a pretty big change,” a grateful, smiling Betancourt said. “I want to thank the organization for giving me this opportunity and not having to go anywhere else.”
The 25-year-old who fled Cuba in December 2003 by boat was already signed through 2008. Wednesday’s deal includes a club option for 2012, the first year Betancourt can become eligible for free agency.
“It’s really easy for everyone to assume, ‘Gosh, everything’s great for this guy because he’s always so happy.’ But he’s got things he worries about like everyone else,” said Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi, who also revealed that Betancourt has a goal to become a megastar shortstop “just like Derek Jeter.”
“He’s the breadwinner right now in his family, and right now he won a lot of bread,” Bavasi said. “But getting to that point was not very easy. He has battled through a lot of things in his lifetime.
“But he keeps such a great attitude on the field and I think that’s contagious, too. … Yuni is a player who projects to be a premium player at what is always a premium position.”
When asked how much money he’d be making had he remained in Cuba, Betancourt said, “I’d rather not say.”
Betancourt added he was “surprised at how fast this came together.”
“But this is where I wanted to be, so there was no reason to wait any longer,” he said.
Especially not after Betancourt hit a two-run, tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning of Seattle’s 8-4 win over Oakland on Tuesday night. It was just his 10th home run in 219 career games.
Betancourt said he spent his offseason with a personal trainer “a little more” than usual. The result is a noticeable increase in upper-body bulk, though Betancourt – a bottom-of-the-order hitter known more for slick defense – said he did not intend to add power to his game.
“I feel I am more a contact hitter. Doubles power,” he said through an interpreter.
He planned to leave the team immediately after its Wednesday night game against the Athletics. He was due in Miami on Thursday to testify in the case of agent Gustavo “Gus” Dominguez. Seattle manager Mike Hargrove said the team expects Betancourt to rejoin his team in time for Friday’s game at Cleveland, but there is a chance he will miss the game if he needs to testify on a second day.
“We won’t know until Friday, game time,” Hargrove said.
Betancourt and another Cuban baseball player, Zaydel Beltran, were among a group of Cubans smuggled to the United States by boat on Dec. 4, 2003, and then driven to Los Angeles, according to court documents. The Miami case involves alleged human smuggling ventures that resulted in a 53-count grand jury indictment announced last fall. Dominguez and his co-defendants have pleaded not guilty to federal alien smuggling, conspiracy and other related charges.
The Cuban players eventually became free agents and Betancourt reached an agreement in April 2004 to play with the Mariners, the documents said.
Dominguez told Major League Baseball officials that both players had previously fled Cuba for Mexico, where they had purportedly established residence and obtained Mexican passports.
Betancourt, who maintains a home in Boca Raton, Fla., hasn’t been charged in the smuggling case.
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