For Jeff Ballard, the payback wasn't too bad.
The system that cost the lefthander money a year ago tipped the scales in his favor yesterday, when he and the Orioles agreed on a $465,000 contract for 1991.
Ballard, who went from a dream year in 1989 (18-8) to a nightmare last season (2-11) got an increase in pay ($235,000) that was almost equal to his $290,000 salary a year ago. His reward was not for extreme mediocrity, but because he was eligible for arbitration, a leverage he didn't have last year.
"It's part of the system," said Doug Melvin, the Orioles' director of player personnel, when asked if Ballard's 1989 record was a factor in the contract. "He was eligible for arbitration and it  has to be taken into consideration."
Ballard, who also has incentive clauses that could double his salary, was pleased with the early resolution to the negotiations. "I'm really happy that the Orioles worked so hard to get this done," he said from his home state of Montana. "It gives me a real good feeling.
"I've always felt they have treated me fairly and I think this was fair for both sides. I'm sure they compensated me some for 1989, but they also realized they had a strong case [for arbitration] -- and so did we.
"I think we reached a number we would've ended up with, and I'm just glad we could get it all worked out without going through all that mess," said Ballard, who is represented by Ray Anderson and Larry Reynolds. "It's nice to get things done."
A year ago Ballard's offseason was marred by two elbow operations and several months of baseball labor negotiations as the Orioles' player representative. The surgery was classified as "minor," but combined with the shortened spring training was enough to restrict Ballard most of the year.
"This has been a good offseason," he said. "I've been throwing off a mound since Dec. 10 and I'm real happy with where I am. I've enjoyed the vacation, but now that the New Year is here I'm getting itchy and looking forward to the season."
Ballard, 27, admits that he never felt comfortable until the last half of last season, when it was too late to salvage anything personally. But he says he maintained a positive outlook throughout.
"I knew I was throwing better than my record showed," he said. "And it wasn't like I didn't know what was going on. When I came up in 1987 it wasn't all roses either.
"Maybe if 1989 had been my rookie year, and I thought it was going to be easy, it might have affected me. But getting hit around in the big leagues wasn't new to me. I knew it wasn't that easy in 1989."
If there was any consolation for Ballard, it was the realization that the operations, as bothersome as they were, were successful. "It wasn't until the middle of July or August that I felt like I was at full strength," he said. "But my elbow has been fine and I had less discomfort than I did the year before."
It is Ballard's belief that he should go to spring training as one of the Orioles' starters. "I don't care where it is No. 1 through No. 5," he said, "and I don't think I should be handed a job if I pitch bad.
"But I think I should go to spring training penciled in as one of the starters -- and I think that's the way they want it to be."
Ballard's signing leaves the Orioles with six players who are eligible to file for arbitration -- in addition to Mickey Tettleton, who accepted arbitration in lieu of free agency.
Pitchers Kevin Hickey and Mark Williamson, infielders Bill Ripken, Rene Gonzales and Tim Hulett and outfielder Joe Orsulak all have more than three years of major-league service and thus are eligible to file.