Sunday, February 29, 2004

Cubs give Lee 3-year contract

First baseman signs for $22.5 million

The Associated Press

MESA, Ariz. - Derrek Lee helped keep the Chicago Cubs out of the World Series last season. Now he's got a three-year contract to see if he can get them back in.

Lee, acquired in a November trade from the World Series champion Florida Marlins, agreed to a three-year, $22.5 million deal Saturday.

The first baseman could have been a free agent after this season. He originally signed a one-year, $6.9 million deal last month.

"Obviously, you have the opportunity to maybe go out on the market and make a little more, but you know like I say, 'It's about the money, but it's not all about the money,' " Lee said.

Lee, 28, broke in with Florida in 1998. He is a career .264 hitter with 130 homers and 421 RBI. Last year, he batted .271 with 31 homers, 92 RBI and 21 stolen bases, and won his first Gold Glove.

Lee's contract is the second multiyear deal announced by the Cubs in two days. They agreed to a three-year, $32.5 million deal with Kerry Wood on Friday.

YANKEES: Bernie Williams remained hospitalized Saturday, two days after having his appendix removed, but he might be released today.

New York manager Joe Torre said a low-grade fever, which is not unusual following surgery, prompted officials to keep the Yankees' center fielder in the hospital.

Williams is considered a long shot to be ready for the Yankees' season opener March 30 in Tokyo against Tampa Bay.

• Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is interested in possibly bringing right-hander Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez back to New York. Hernandez, a free agent coming off shoulder surgery, threw in an open workout Friday in Miami.

"I've always liked El Duque," Steinbrenner said. "He's got courage. I'm not afraid to take a chance with him."

BRAVES: Breaking with tradition, the Braves named their opening-day starter - 21-game winner Russ Ortiz - before playing their first spring training game.

Ortiz will be followed by Mike Hampton, newcomer John Thomson and Horacio Ramirez. The Braves haven't decided on a fifth starter.

Manager Bobby Cox usually waits until the final days of camp to announce his rotation.

Ortiz was the logical choice to lead the rotation after going 21-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 2003, the first 20-win season of his career.

MARLINS: Right-hander A.J. Burnett threw his second consecutive pain-free bullpen session of spring training and soon might pitch in an exhibition game.

"That's a possibility," Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "That's definitely a possibility. He's still got a long way to go, but he's right on target or even ahead of it."

Burnett, 27, had reconstructive elbow surgery April 28, and his projected return date this season is May 1.

"I felt good," said Burnett, the ace of the staff in 2002. "I threw pain-free, that's the main thing."

DEVIL RAYS: Manager Lou Piniella said right-hander Victor Zambrano will be his opening-day starter. Zambrano went 12-10 with a 4.21 ERA in 2003.

The Devil Rays open the regular season against the New York Yankees in Japan on March 30.

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