Oakland signs ex-Gator Ellis to two-year deal


Published: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
OAKLAND, Calif. - The Oakland Athletics signed Mark Ellis, a former Gator, to a two-year, $6 million contract Saturday, rewarding their second baseman for his strong comeback season last year from a major shoulder injury.
The A's avoided salary arbitration by reaching a deal with Ellis, who bounced back from a year off to bat a career-high .316 with a career-best 13 home runs and 52 RBIs. General manager Billy Beane had been leaning toward a one-year contract for Ellis, but the sides began talking about a multiyear deal on Friday and quickly reached an agreement.
"I was almost positive it would be a one-year deal, so I was a little surprised yesterday," Ellis said Saturday while attending the team's Fan Fast festivities at the Coliseum. "I'm happy."
Ellis, expected to be Oakland's leadoff hitter after having success there last season, will earn $2.25 million this season and $3.5 million in 2007. The deal includes a $5 million club option for 2008 with a $250,000 buyout.
The A's were unimpressed when they saw Ellis during the 2004 fall instructional league, but he was a new player by spring training last year.
"After instructional league, he seemed so far away from being able to compete in a major league game," Beane said. "What a special kid. What a comeback he had last year. No one deserves this more."
The 28-year-old Ellis didn't play for more than a week during one May stretch last season, and he believed he should have been on the field. In time, he worked his way back into the lineup. He wound up leading the team in hitting, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and his five triples also were a team-high.
"Ellis did such a great job leading off last year, he's probably going to be the first to give it a try," manager Ken Macha said.
For Ellis, last season was a resurgence to celebrate after missing all of 2004 with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He came back ready last spring training, though Beane signed Keith Ginter as insurance in case Ellis struggled to get going again or wasn't completely recovered.
"I had to prove a lot last year and I was able to do that," Ellis said. "Having this deal shows the organization has a lot of confidence in me, and I appreciate that."
He got hurt during a collision with shortstop Bobby Crosby in a 2004 spring training game against the Chicago Cubs. Now, Ellis doesn't even think about his shoulder - he quit doing that after making his first few diving stops last year.
"I was sure I'd be OK," Ellis said. "I'm looking forward to not having to answer questions about the shoulder anymore."
His 28 career homers are the second-most by someone from South Dakota and it shouldn't take him long to pass Dave Collins' mark of 32.
Ellis was the last of Oakland's arbitration-eligible players to sign.
Beane is already facing questions about ace Barry Zito's future with the club. The left-hander's contract is up after the 2006 season.
"I'm sure we'll have some sort of conversation," Beane said. "That's going to be a challenge, even if we start negotiations. He's a talented guy who is going to command a lot."

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