$2 million contract brings Sutcliffe back to the Orioles

November 22, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

The Orioles filled another spot on their roster with a familiar name yesterday.

They re-signed Rick Sutcliffe to a one-year guaranteed contract for $2 million, plus incentives -- allowing manager Johnny Oates to turn his attention elsewhere.

"I'm feeling pretty good today, knowing we got this out of the way," Oates said from his home in Virginia. "Getting Rick signed was our No. 1 goal."

Reached at his home in Kansas City, Mo., Sutcliffe said: "It's not the same incentive package, but there's more money guaranteed. I've reached the point in my career where I have to continue to prove myself every year."

A year ago, Sutcliffe, 36, signed a $1.2 million contract tha doubled in value because of incentive clauses, so next year he will be starting with a guaranteed base close to what he earned a year ago.

"Now we can scale our sights down a little bit and think about who is going to be our fifth starter," said Oates. "I don't know what the situation is with Craig Lefferts [obtained late last season from the San Diego Padres] or Storm Davis. But I really think we can have five starters next year who can win 15 games."

Oates said he would be more than satisfied with a starting rotation of Lefferts, Sutcliffe, Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald and Arthur Rhodes. And, if negotiations are successful, he said there also would be room for Davis.

"Storm can be valuable because he can be a spot starter and also work out of the bullpen," Oates said. "I feel comfortable with him in that role, and I don't think I want to use Alan Mills as the fifth guy -- I kind of like him where he is in the bullpen."

Sutcliffe was 16-15 with a 4.47 ERA after signing with the Orioles as a free agent last season. But Oates considered him far more valuable than his record would indicate.

"I look past that ERA to the innings pitched [237], the number of starts [36] and what he brought to our club," said Oates. "He was a positive influence on our young pitchers.

"I think a lot of people know about the relationship between Rick and McDonald. What they don't know is that Rhodes wouldn't go out to the mound without slapping Rick with his glove. No matter where he [Sutcliffe] was, Arthur would find him before he left the dugout."

Oates let it be known early that he was going to rely heavily on Sutcliffe's experience. The right-hander was given the assignment of pitching the first game at Oriole Park. Though Mussina clearly was the staff's ace, it was Sutcliffe who worked out of the No. 1 spot in the rotation.

That isn't likely to change. "I'm not going to name an Opening Day pitcher right now," said Oates, "but I'll say this -- it's Rick's job to lose."

From the outset of negotiations, Sutcliffe let it be known that he wanted to return. He also expressed a strong desire to resolve the issue early.

"We've said all along, publicly and privately, that the Orioles were our first choice," said Barry Axelrod, who handled negotiations for Sutcliffe. "As long as we could reach a reasonable and fair agreement, Rick wanted to return.

"He's the kind of guy who likes to have his ducks in a row -- he likes to have things in order as soon as possible so he can make his plans," said Axelrod. "And it was important for the Orioles to have things in place. If they weren't going to sign Rick, then they needed to make other moves."

In brief discussions with other teams as well as the Orioles, Sutcliffe said the possibility of a multi-year contract was discussed, but he decided against it.

"I talked about it with Robin [his wife], and we decided that it worked out so well last year that we'd just keep taking it one year at a time. I think everybody knows how much I liked Baltimore and appreciated the opportunity last year."

5l Axelrod acknowledged that there were talks with other teams, but said they never reached the serious stage. "We had the opportunity to talk with two or three other clubs," said Axelrod, "but we never stopped talking with the Orioles."

The Orioles have 39 players on their roster, one below the limit.

Rick Sutcliffe's 1992 statistics

W.. L ERA.. G GS CG Sav. Inn. ..H.. ER BB SO. HR

16 15 4.47 36 36 5.. 0 ..237.1 251 118 74 109 20

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