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Friday, March 29
Sweeney has unique escape clause in deal

By Jayson Stark

Mike Sweeney won't be following the footsteps of Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye out of Kansas City. To demonstrate his loyalty to the only team he has ever played for, Sweeney has agreed to a five-year, $55 million contract extension to stay with the Royals, ESPN.com has learned.

Mike Sweeney

However, the deal contains a clause that requires the Royals to have a record of .500 or better in either the 2003 or 2004 season -- the first two years of the contract. If they have losing records in both of those seasons, Sweeney can escape from the deal and become a free agent.

Also, Sweeney can designate eight teams each year to which he can be traded (meaning he has a no-trade to the other 22 clubs). If he changes teams, his new team loses the discount Sweeney gave the Royals. If that happens, his annual salary jumps from $11 million to $12.5 million.

And if he is traded in 2004, he can opt out of the contract and become a free agent again.

"My representatives said on the free market I'd probably be worth $14, $15 (million a year), somewhere around there," Sweeney told The Associated Press. "But to me, it's not about the money. It's about being fair, not trying to get the most.

"For me this is the right place. I wrote on a piece of paper the pros and cons, and the pros outweighed the cons to stay in Kansas City. It's not about money, but having peace in your heart. I have peace in my heart to sign this contract."

Sweeney would have been a year away from free agency when this season began. Until recently, there was nothing to indicate his career path would be much different from those of Damon or Dye, both of whom were traded in the final year of their contract.

But in the last two weeks, the Royals stepped up efforts to sign him. And after several conversations with George Brett, who played his entire career in Kansas City, Sweeney decided he wanted to stay with the Royals after they promised him they were committed to building a winner. The .500-or-better clause is the caveat that holds them to that promise.

"This is big," Royals general manager Allard Baird told The Associated Press. "Ownership really made a strong commitment. They said be aggressive. We need to keep him. He is our cornerstone. We need somebody to build around."

Sweeney imposed a deadline of getting the negotiations completed before Monday, saying he did not want them to be a distraction during the season.

"Quite frankly, I had some concerns that if we didn't get it done now, that no matter what, when you look at the end of the season, the market out there might have been too great for us to compete for Michael," Baird said.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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