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TODAY: Saturday, May 20
Giles becomes first $10 million Pirate

PITTSBURGH -- Brian Giles, a platoon outfielder when Cleveland traded him in 1998, became the richest player in Pittsburgh Pirates' history Friday by signing a five-year contract extension worth at least $45 million.

Brian Giles

Giles' contract easily eclipses first baseman Kevin Young's $24 million, four-year deal as the biggest in club history. It will also make him the Pirates' first $10 million-a-year-player.

Giles, who has 50 homers in 180 games with Pittsburgh, got a $5 million signing bonus that was partially deferred to next season. The extension overrides a contract that was worth $3.2 million next season and contained a club option for 2002.

By agreeing to defer $12 million, Giles puts the Pirates in a better position to re-sign key players such as catcher Jason Kendall, whose contract runs through 2001, and pitcher Todd Ritchie, a 15-game winner last season. Kendall said during spring training that he and Giles both wanted to stay in Pittsburgh.

The Pirates announced the Giles signing at PNC Park, a 38,000-seat, baseball-only park across the street from Three Rivers Stadium that is on schedule to open in April.

"This gives us the flexibility to sign other guys," said general manager Cam Bonifay, whose payroll is expected to jump from $32 million to $50 million next season in the new park. "This deal is beneficial to both sides. It gives us the leverage to sign players who are very productive, and Brian gave us that flexibility."

The Pirates have annually had one of baseball's lowest payrolls since 1993 and haven't had a winning season since 1992. However, Giles believes they are on the verge of being a team that can compete against those with much-bigger budgets and more big-name players.

"The big thing for me was to structure the deal so we can sign Jason Kendall and Todd Ritchie, guys who are going to need new deals," said Giles, who went into Friday's game against St. Louis with a .333 average, 11 homers and 41 RBI. "This team needs to keep guys we can win with."

Giles, 29, was a part-time outfielder with the Indians from 1995-98, never getting more than 377 at-bats in a season, before being traded to Pittsburgh for left-handed reliever Ricardo Rincon on Nov. 18, 1998.

Giles developed into one of the National League's best players in his first full year as a starter, hitting .315 with 39 homers and 115 RBI. He also shed the reputation he couldn't consistently hit left-handed pitchers, batting .299 with nine homers in 177 at-bats.

Giles was on pace to become the first Pirates player to hit 40 homers in a season since Willie Stargell in 1973 until missing the final 11 games with a fractured finger. Only two players in the Pirates' 113-year history have more homers in a season than Giles, Stargell and Ralph Kiner. His 115 RBI were the most by a Pirates player since Barry Bonds had 115 in 1991.

Giles has been equally productive this season, hitting seven homers in his last 21 games. He is on pace to hit 45 homers.

"I always thought I could produce if I played every day, but there are always doubters until you do it," Giles said. "I always thought I had the talent to do it."

Bonifay said Giles deserves to be mentioned alongside the NL Central's best-known players -- i.e. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr.

"He has been a very productive player for us, and we expect him to continue to be a productive player," Bonifay said.

Giles' contract, finalized in the last week, is worth slightly less than the $57 million, six-year contract signed a week ago by St. Louis outfielder Jim Edmonds, whose statistics are comparable to those of Giles.

"But this had nothing to do with Jim Edmonds," Giles said. "We were close to doing this a week ago, and everything is different. Edmonds had nothing to do with this at all."

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