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Nationals re-sign Austin Kearns
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BY TODD JACOBSON
WASHINGTON--Austin Kearns grew up in Lexington, Ky., was drafted by the closest thing to a hometown team--the Cincinnati Reds--and spent eight years in the same organization.
So when the 26-year-old right fielder was traded from the Reds to the Washington Nationals last summer, change came about slowly.
"It all happened kind of fast," Kearns said. "I think the first time a player gets traded you are probably in a little bit of shock. I adjusted here pretty quick. I like this area."
And yesterday, Kearns seemed right at home as he signed a $17.5 million contract extension that could keep him in D.C. through 2010.
Kearns will make $3.5 million this season, $5 million in 2008, $8.5 million in 2009. The Nationals hold a $10 million club option for 2010 that includes a $1 million buyout.
"I don't think there is going to be a better place to be here very soon," said Kearns, who donned his new No. 25 jersey (he wore No. 28 a year ago) during a press conference at the Washington Square office building owned by the Nationals' owners.
Kearns, who would've been a free agent in 2009, avoided arbitration with the deal, leaving starting pitcher John Patterson and closer Chad Cordero as Washington's only players possibly headed to the negotiating table.
Though the Nationals have chosen to rebuild through scouting and player development and stayed out of the high-priced free agent market this winter, Kearns became the third young Nationals player inked to a long-term contract in the last year.
First baseman Nick Johnson, 28, and catcher Brian Schneider, 30, both signed contract extensions last year, keeping them in Washington through 2009.
Along with Johnson, Schneider and 22-year-old third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Kearns makes up the core of the team's foundation, general manager Jim Bowden said.
"It's important from the club's perspective obviously that we keep our good young players," Bowden said. ". . . That's something we plan to pursue and we will continue to do so."