Erickson, O's agree: 2 years, $6 million Option year included

negotiations continue with Rhodes, Mercker

January 20, 1996|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,SUN STAFF

Scott Erickson is happy to pitch on natural grass with a solid infield behind him. The Orioles are happy to avoid an arbitration hearing and lock up a solid starting pitcher.

Thus, both sides are happy that Erickson agreed yesterday to a two-year, $6 million contract, plus an option for a third year.

"I've been going from year to year," said Erickson, 27. "It's kind of nice having a couple of years of security."

The Orioles exchanged arbitration figures with two other pitchers before yesterday's deadline. Kent Mercker, acquired from the Atlanta Braves, is seeking $3.19 million, and the Orioles are offering $2.6 million. Arthur Rhodes is seeking $675,000, more than twice the Orioles' offer of $300,000.

The Orioles likely will try to come to terms with Rhodes and Mercker before going to arbitration, but signing Erickson as their second or third starter was a top priority.

"We are very excited to have avoided the arbitration process with Scott," Orioles general manager Pat Gillick said. "Having him in a long-term deal makes sense for everyone involved. He has proven that he is a workhorse and will be a vital member of our rotation."

Erickson will earn $2.8 million in 1996 and $3.2 million in 1997, plus he has a $3.6 million option for 1998 that automatically kicks in if he pitches at least 200 innings the previous season. He made $1,862,500 last season.

The Orioles thought they got a steal when they acquired Erickson on July 7 from the Minnesota Twins for pitcher Scott Klingenbeck and outfielder Kimera Bartee. The trade looks even better now that the Orioles have reacquired Bartee through the Rule 5 draft and have signed Erickson for several years.

"I see that since he came over last year he did a good job," Gillick said. "He's a great talent that we want pitching for us the next couple years for sure."

Erickson finished the Erickson season with a 13-10 record and 4.81 ERA overall, but he was 9-4 with a 3.80 ERA and seven complete games as an Oriole.

The turnaround isn't difficult to explain -- Erickson has fared much better on natural grass (31-22, 3.80 ERA) than artificial turf (39-42, 4.48 ERA) in his career. Not surprisingly, the right-handed sinker-ball pitcher prefers Camden Yards to the Metrodome.

"I loved the infield, they've 45,000 fans a night, and a nice, thick grass surface," Erickson said of pitching in Baltimore.

The thick grass at Camden Yards will slow down ground balls, which are Erickson's specialty -- he ranked third among American League pitchers with 1.2 double plays per nine innings last season.

And with the double-play combination of Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar behind him, Erickson could expect to see even more double-play grounders turned into outs.

Erickson said he felt comfortable under pitching coach Mike Flanagan last season and does not know manager Davey Johnson or pitching coach Pat Dobson. He signed a long-term deal because of the playing surface and the Orioles' defense.

That was the cause of Erickson's undoing in Minnesota, he said. Erickson won 20 games and was runner-up for the Cy Young Award in 1991, but by 1993 led the American League with 19 losses. Although he threw a no-hitter in 1994, he never returned to his 1991 form.

"My problems with Minnesota were AstroTurf, and we had a great infield but slowly it deteriorated," Erickson said.

Those two things shouldn't be problems in Baltimore. Dennis Gilbert, Erickson's agent, described his client as "one of the team's aces." The ace of the Twins' 1991 World Series staff said he expects to return to postseason play this year.

"If we're not playing for something special on the last day of the season, then something went wrong," Erickson said.

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