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Rockies ink Blackmon to 6-year deal

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SAN DIEGO -- Center fielder Charlie Blackmon's dedication to his craft has allowed him to improve his game as the years advance. That trait was one of the reasons the Rockies signed him Wednesday to a six-year contract, including two player options, which could keep him in purple pinstripes through the 2023 season.

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SAN DIEGO -- Center fielder Charlie Blackmon's dedication to his craft has allowed him to improve his game as the years advance. That trait was one of the reasons the Rockies signed him Wednesday to a six-year contract, including two player options, which could keep him in purple pinstripes through the 2023 season.

Tweet from @Rockies: 🔊 Rockies fans, @Chuck_Nazty has a message for you. pic.twitter.com/dmdanCQC8D

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According to Major League sources, the deal is worth $108 million for six years, but incentives could improve his earnings over that time to $116 million.

The deal comes after an offseason during which the industry was so leery of contracts extending into players' declining years that many accomplished athletes sat until after Spring Training started, and some are still unsigned. But Blackmon, who turns 32 on July 1, has a performance record that suggests he defies the norm.

"I'm very proud," said Blackmon, an All-Star Game participant in 2014 and last season. "It's really hard to play in the big leagues. It's very hard. For that reason, I think there are a lot of very talented guys that struggle to get the at-bats or the playing time that they need to reach their potential.

"I've been thankful enough to have those at-bats and be able to play enough baseball and keep getting better, and learning more about my body and how to play the game is important. That's part of what drives me."

Blackmon has seen regular jumps in many statistical categories since becoming the Rockies' regular leadoff hitter in 2014, culminating in a National League batting title last season.

2014: .288/.335/.440, 19 home runs
2015: .287/.347/.450, 17 home runs
2016: .324/.381/.552, 29 home runs
2017: .331/.399/.601, 37 home runs

"I'm trying to think of a guy that got so much better as a big leaguer," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "I remember seeing Charlie. He was a fourth outfielder, and he's turned himself into one of the best players in the game.

"Getting to know him like I know him now, there's a reason why this happened. Charlie is a great worker. He's got a great head on his shoulders, all the things you look for in a player, he has."

The Rockies are careful with payroll commitments, having rebuilt with young players. However, signing Blackmon is a statement that they believe not just in the production, but in the person doing the producing.

Tweet from @Rockies: Homegrown, and still growing. @Chuck_Nazty 🧔 pic.twitter.com/Vuo5sReRgo

Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich cited "a couple of different reasons" for the Blackmon extension.

"The first, he's one of the elite players in the game now," Bridich said. "He's certainly one of the elite players in the division and in the National League.

"Another fairly obvious reason is that we know him so well. It's a great story to tell. He's been in the organization so long and we've gotten to know him so well. It goes all the way back to scouting and the signing, drafting and signing and developing. And for him performing and becoming the player he's become at the Major League level."

Blackmon signed for $14 million during the offseason to avoid arbitration, but this deal restructures this year into a $2 million signing bonus and a $12 million salary. His salary jumps to $21 million for each of the next three seasons, and his player option for 2022 is also $21 million. Blackmon's deal, which includes a $2 million signing bonus, wraps up with a $10 million player option for '23.

Blackmon's 2023 salary will increase by $2 million if he finishes in the top 3 in NL Most Valuable Player Award voting from 2018-22; it will increase by $1 million if he places fourth or fifth. If Blackmon has between 400 and 575 plate appearances in 2022, he will add $5 million to his '23 base salary, which can't escalate by more than $8 million in combined incentives.

Blackmon and the Bridich said the deal was completed before the regular season's opening, which eliminated a potential distraction. Blackmon wanted to find a low-key time to announce it.

Without the contract hanging over his head, Blackmon has hit four home runs, which tied him with the Nationals' Bryce Harper for the Major League lead going into Wednesday.

"It was actually not very relaxing leading up to the beginning of the season because there was something of a deadline there," Blackmon said. "But now, with this out of the way, yes, I'm relaxed.

"To be honest, I'm just trying to play baseball, focus on the baseball part. I've been able to do a pretty good job of that."

Blackmon's signing will turn speculation toward third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is eligible for free agency after the 2019 season. Blackmon said he talked to Arenado, not in an attempt to negotiate together but "about his future, and how that relates to my future, and I would love for those futures to be together." However, Blackmon said there was no pact, and Bridich said Arenado's potential contract is not connected to Blackmon's.

It has been a long way to come for Blackmon, who was once a struggling, rarely used lefty pitcher at Georgia Tech. He stretched the truth when he told a collegiate summer ball coach, former Major Leaguer Rusty Greer, that he was a hitter as well as a pitcher. Blackmon played well enough as an outfielder for the Rockies to make him a second-round Draft pick in 2008.

"I always felt like I was going to be really good at something," said Blackmon. "I really wanted it to be baseball, and for a long time, I wanted it to be pitching. It turns out, I stink at pitching. Pitchers get hurt a lot. It's hard to pitch in the big leagues. It's hard to pitch in college.

"I'm glad that I was able to make that change and I'm very thankful to be here in this situation."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Charlie Blackmon