Lambasted for their major league-low $21 million payroll and perpetual trading of star players, the Marlins are finally keeping one in the fold.
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez told an acquaintance he has agreed to the framework of a six-year, $70 million extension. That ranks as the richest contract in franchise history, topping the six-year, $61 million deal Gary Sheffield received in April 1997.
Ramirez's contract is pending a physical and an official announcement might not come until early next week.
Marlins President David Samson and President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest had no comment late Friday. Andy Mota, Ramirez's Weston-based agent, could not be reached.
The Marlins are believed to have initiated talks during spring training, but a deal did not appear imminent. Last month, Ramirez, 24, said he didn't think the two sides would engage in serious discussions until the offseason.
Ramirez, who is making $439,000, would have been eligible for arbitration after this season. Well on his way toward another stellar campaign and further establishing himself among the game's best offensive players, Ramirez likely would have commanded a 2009 salary in the $8.5 million range.
Though set for life with this deal, Ramirez sacrificed millions for the financial security. Had he waited until after the season, he justifiable could have asked for $90 million-plus to give up three years of arbitration and an additional three years of free agent eligibility.
While the deal is not believed to contain any no-trade provision, locking up Ramirez to such favorable terms all but assures the Marlins will open their new downtown Miami ballpark in 2011 with their superstar in the lineup.
The Marlins have been late to join what over the last several seasons has become a baseball-wide trend of buying out the arbitration years and in some cases multiple free agent years of young players.
The Ramirez contract would be the first multi-year agreement the Marlins have awarded since January 2005, when Carlos Delgado agreed to a four-year, $52 million free agent pact. The Marlins ended up paying for $11 million of that contract, which was transferred to the Mets in a trade before 2006.
That same January also marked the last time the Marlins signed one of their own players to a multi-year extension. Paul Lo Duca, who was a five-plus arbitration-eligible player at the time, received a three-year, $18 million commitment. Like Delgado, Lo Duca also was traded to the Mets after the first year of that deal.
Since 2006, every team in baseball except the Marlins had signed at least one free agent or extended the contract of one of its own players for multiple years.
Having traded superstar Miguel Cabrera and ultra-popular left-hander Dontrelle Willis last offseason, the Marlins might have sabotaged their chance of excelling in a new facility had they moved Ramirez as well.
In a little more than two seasons since the Marlins acquired him from the Red Sox as part of the Josh Beckett-Mike Lowell blockbuster, Ramirez has become one of the game's standout players. He won National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 and last season he finished with the second most hits in the NL (212) behind Rockies outfielder and MVP runner-up Matt Holliday (216).
Ramirez again is among the league leaders with a .336 average, which ranks second to Rafael Furcal among major league shortstops. He's a good bet to represent the Marlins at the All-Star game later this summer at Yankee Stadium.
Staff Writer Harvey Fialkov contributed to this report.