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Tigers, prospect Keith hope they have a win-win deal for player without MLB experience

Colt Keith Scott Harris Detroit Tigers Colt Keith Scott Harris - The Canadian Press

DETROIT (AP) — Colt Keith and the Detroit Tigers hope they have struck a win-win deal.

Detroit is banking on Keith, who hasn't faced a major league pitch, becoming a star. The 22-year-old infielder is guaranteed more than $28 million even if he's a bust.

“There are positives and negatives and risks on both sides," Keith said Tuesday at his introductory news conference, overlooking a snow-covered Comerica Park. "Worst case for both of us — the organization and myself — is that I don't pan out and I end up with security financially for me and my family for the rest of lives.

“The best case for both of us is that all of the option years are exercised, we win a couple of World Series and bring them back to Detroit and I make myself a boatload of money.”

Keith and Detroit agreed Sunday to a six-year contract worth $28,642,500. The deal includes three team options that could give Keith $64 million over nine seasons, and there are escalators that could increase the value to $82 million over nine years.

He is ranked the No. 22 big league prospect by and the Tigers organization thinks even more highly of him as a player and a person.

Detroit selected the left-handed hitting infielder with a fifth-round pick in the 2020 amateur draft out of Biloxi High School in Mississippi and he flourished last season.

Keith, who is from Zanesville, Ohio, hit .325 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs in 59 games last year at Double-A Erie. He was promoted to Triple-A Toledo on June 26 and batted .287 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs in 67 games.

“The talent is obvious, and the makeup matches,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said.

Detroit needs all the help it can get.

The Tigers have had seven straight losing records and have not won a World Series in four decades, or an an AL pennant since 2012.

When the Tigers report to spring training in Lakeland, Florida, they plan to have Keith field some ground balls and focus much of his efforts defensively on playing second base.

“We expect him to make a very compelling case in spring training to be our opening day starter at second base," general manager Scott Harris said. "But he has to earn it — just like every other player.”

He just won't be paid like any other player without major league experience in Detroit's camp.

Keith will get a $2 million signing bonus, split up in payments in February and March, along with a $2.5 million salary this year. His salaries could escalate to maximums of $13 million in 2030, $19 million in 2031 and $24 million in 2032.

“Both parties are sharing risk here,” Keith’s agent, Matt Paul, said. “We hope that Colt is an All-Star, and helps this team win a lot of games.

"If he does, he’ll be happy and the Tigers will be happy.”

Milwaukee agreed last month to an $82 million, eight-year contract with 19-year-old outfielder Jackson Chourio, the largest contract for a prospect with no major league service.

Atlanta signed Ronald Acuña Jr. to a $100 million, eight-year deal that can raise in value to $124 million over a decade in 2019 when the future superstar was 21, and that has become one of baseball’s best bargains for the Braves. Had Acuña been eligible for arbitration, his likely salary for 2024 would in the $32 million to $35 million range rather than $17 million.

“Acuña may have cost himself some money,” Keith said. "But also he's been hurt a lot and say he didn't take that deal and he went to the arbitration process, who knows? Anything can happen. But at the end of the day, he secured himself $120-something million and he may have a chance to sign another contract.

“I look at it as a positive thing. I'll be a free agent at 31. With my work ethic, and my dreams and aspirations, I want to be healthy enough and mobile and strong enough to sign another long-term deal and hopefully the Tigers extend me again.”