|Matusz Will Get Richer If Success Comes Early|
By Pete Kerzel
Gambling that a polished college left-hander would soon be rotation-ready and not wanting to push contract negotiations to the midnight Aug. 15 midnight deadline, the Orioles acquiesced to Brian Matusz’s demands for a major league contract, signing their first-round June draft choice to a four-year deal that guarantees him $3,472,500.
After waiting until nine minutes before last year’s deadline to come to terms with first-round pick Matt Wieters, a catcher out of Georgia Tech, the Orioles inked Matusz with about eight hours to spare.
“It’s been a long summer with all the negotiations going on, but I'm just happy we got the deal done finally,” the 21-year-old Matusz said in a conference call. “I really hope to do what I love to do most -- play baseball -- and now it's time for me to train myself and get ready for this fall.”
Matusz, the fourth overall selection in the draft, flew to Baltimore for a physical examination last Thursday, but returned to his home near San Diego before negotiations had been successfully completed.
He plans to return to Maryland next week to begin a throwing program with the Aberdeen IronBirds, but he won’t play in a minor league game before the Orioles’ short-season Single-A affiliate in the New York-Penn League ends its regular season Sept. 6.
That means Matusz would be targeted to participate either in the Arizona Fall League or the Hawaii Winter Baseball loop, where Wieters saw his first post-draft action. He will then be assigned to one of the Orioles’ minor league teams to begin play in 2009.
Matusz will receive a $3.2 million signing bonus payable through 2009, and the contract calls for him to earn $32,500 next year, $65,000 in 2010, $75,000 in 2011 and $100,000 in 2012. However, Matusz would make substantially more if he reaches the majors quickly -- $425,000 next year, $500,000 in 2010, $550,000 in 2011 and $650,000 in 2012.
The Orioles finally agreed to his demands for a major league contract -- something Baltimore hasn’t done since signing left-hander Adam Loewen to such a deal after making him the fourth overall pick in 2002 -- after lengthy negotiations with Matusz’s camp.
“We did try to take it down another road for a good part of the summer,” said Orioles director of scouting Joe Jordan. “But there was a point in time that we had to realize as a club that we needed to do this to make this thing come together. From an organizational standpoint, we’re thrilled with the way things worked out. Both sides are happy with it.”
Especially Matusz, who said a deal likely would not have been consummated without the major league contract and the associated two-tiered pay structure.
"The major league deal is basically what it took in order to get it done,” Matusz said. “It was the main key to finalize the deal.”
The Orioles will have the ability to option Matusz to the minor leagues four times during the course of the contract. This arrangement, however, became a sticking point in the team’s machinations with Loewen, an often-injured player whose injury problems caused him to abandon pitching to try and reinvent himself as a position player.
“I wouldn't say the negotiations were tough. It’s just a process you have to go through,” Jordan said. “But at the end of the day, we got the guy we wanted. He’s part of our organization, so anything we went through was worth it.”
Matusz, who was 12-2 with a 1.71 ERA as a junior with San Diego State in 2008, is projected as a front-of-the-rotation starter. He was named the West Coast Conference’s 2008 Pitcher of the Year after posting an NCAA-leading 141 strikeouts.
The southpaw was a two-time finalist for the Golden Spikes Award given annually to the best amateur baseball player in the United States, a 2008 finalist for the Roger Clemens Award for pitching excellence, was named a Louisville Slugger first-team All-American and selected to the 2007 USA Baseball National Team.
The Cave Creek, Ariz., native was originally picked in the fourth round of the 2005 draft by the Los Angeles Angels, but elected to attend college instead. Orioles amateur scout Mark Ralston, who covers southern California, was responsible for Matusz’s selection.
Issue 3.34: August 21, 2008