INDIANS Cleveland signs Martinez to $15.5 million extension

The All-Star catcher would not have been eligible for arbitration until 2006.
CHICAGO (AP) -- The Cleveland Indians and All-Star catcher Victor Martinez agreed Tuesday to a $15.5 million, five-year contract that includes a team option for 2010.
Martinez batted .283 with 23 homers and 108 RBIs last season and was picked for the AL All-Star team.
"I thank the Cleveland Indians for the opportunity and their trust," Martinez said.
He originally had signed a one-year deal worth $372,100. He would not have been eligible for salary arbitration until after the 2006 season.
"It wasn't that hard of a decision," Martinez said. I am more than happy to be an Indian long-term. Hopefully, I can finish my career with the Indians."
Martinez gets a $1 million signing bonus, $500,000 this year, $800,000 in 2006, $3 million in 2007, $4.25 million in 2008 and $5.7 million in 2009. The Indians have a $7 million option for 2010 with a $250,000 buyout.
The contract is the largest ever for a catcher not yet eligible for arbitration, Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro said. It also is Cleveland's biggest deal for a player not yet eligible for arbitration.
"There's a premium for the position he plays, and the teammate he is, and I think the leader he is going to become on this team," Shapiro said.
Locking up the 26-year-old catcher and cleanup hitter for an extended time was a prime motivation for the Indians to act now.
"I think [the length] was an important part of the equation for us," Shapiro said. "I think that there is a shared risk in any long-term contract. We wanted to make as strong a statement as possible, because our belief in Victor is so resolute."
Martinez, a native of Venezuela and a former Mahoning Valley Scrapper, was originally signed as a free agent by Cleveland in 1996.
He broke in with the Indians in 2002, playing in 12 games. He played in 49 games in 2003 and then had his breakout season a year ago.
Martinez's 21 homers and 101 RBIs as a catcher led the major leagues at his position. The 21 homers were a franchise record for catchers.

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