Cubs, Lee agree to new five-year deal

Cubs, Lee agree to new five-year deal

CHICAGO -- Five years ago, Derrek Lee said he couldn't imagine signing a monster contract that puts him in elite status. It's taken a lot of hard work.

On Tuesday, the Chicago Cubs signed the first baseman to a five-year, $65 million contract that runs through 2010. The deal includes a no-trade clause.

"I don't think you ever envision a contract like this," Lee said. "You're just playing the game and you see guys signing these contracts, but you don't see yourself signing that contract. It's a great day for myself and my family and it feels good."

It's even better for the Cubs to lock up the two-time Gold Glove winner and defending National League batting champ, who is coming off a breakthrough season in which he hit .335 with 46 home runs, 50 doubles and 107 RBIs.

"Derrek has become one of the upper-echelon players in the game," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "It's a well-deserved contract. He made no secret of the fact that he wanted to be a Cub for a long time. He's a special player and developed into one of the better players in the game. He's a rare guy -- he's a five-tool player at a position that doesn't normally have those kind of tools. We're thrilled to wrap him up for a long time."

The 2006 season was the last year of a three-year, $22.5 million deal Lee had signed in February 2004. Hendry and Lee's agent Casey Close ripped up that final year of the deal, so it begins this season.

It's the largest contract the Cubs have given a player since awarding Sammy Sosa a four-year, $72 million contract in March 2001.

Lee, 30, could've become a free agent after this season and tested the market.

"I like it here," Lee said. "Also, I want the challenge of trying to win here. I want to be on that team that wins a world championship here in Chicago and sees the city go crazy."

They would be dancing down the streets of Wrigleyville. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908.

Lee said he had a number in mind for his deal, the Cubs agreed and the two sides worked out the details.

"It was really smooth," Lee said.

Well, not exactly. Lee wanted negotiations finished before the regular season began so he could focus on baseball. Last Friday, he set a Saturday deadline to complete the talks, but softened that stance the next day.

"I wanted this behind me," Lee said. "I didn't want any distractions for my teammates. I wanted the questions about the game."

One of the most level-headed players in the game, Lee made it easy for the Cubs to make a long-term commitment.

"I think he puts the price of winning above the price of his own success and his own bank account," Hendry said. "When you have a guy like that who would rather win than worry about his own accolades -- and he was the same way in Florida when he wasn't the marquee guy on the field -- when over a three-year period you see consistency in the way he carries himself, the way he cares about winning first, the way he's supportive of his teammates, and the way he treats everyone, fans, the front office, the media, he's the guy who has the highest level of character and dignity that you can expect from a Major League player."

Cubs manager Dusty Baker has known Lee since he was 12 years old and attended one of Baker's baseball schools in Sacramento, Calif. Cubs special assistant Gary Hughes was in the Marlins system and watched Lee grow up, too. He's just a good guy.

"I dont think we're going to go out and find a player we like as much on the field, and his character off the field is tremendous," Hendry said. "He's just as good a human being as a ballplayer."

The Cubs acquired Lee on Nov. 25, 2003, in exchange for Hee-Seop Choi and a Minor League pitcher. Hendry admits they weren't smart enough to think Lee would be a batting champ.

"But we knew we had an athlete who was capable of taking off and obviously he did," Hendry said. "It turned out to be a great trade for the Cubs."

Lee's parents make sure their son stays humble.

"I put a responsibility on myself to carry myself in a certain way," Lee said. "My father would demand that of me. I feel we have a responsibility because kids look up to us, they see the way we act. I take that responsibility."

The new deal is quite an accomplishment.

"It's a good feeling," Lee said. "You work hard. I've been playing this game a long time, I was drafted in 1993. I put in a lot of hours, a lot of bus rides, hard work, and it's paid off. It's a good feeling and I'm proud of myself."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.