O's beat clock to sign Loewen

Team's top draft pick accepts deal 5 minutes before midnight deadline

May 27, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Facing a midnight deadline to sign last year's first-round draft pick, Adam Loewen, the Orioles' front office spent Memorial Day cloistered in the B&O warehouse, hoping beyond hope they could work out a deal with the 19-year-old pitcher.

Then it happened. At about 11:55 p.m., the Orioles struck a major league deal with Loewen that will make him the new centerpiece of an organization trying desperately to rebuild.

Loewen is a 6-foot-6 left-hander who went 6-1 this season with a 2.47 ERA at Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla. The Orioles made him the fourth overall pick in last year's draft but failed to sign him last summer and weren't allowed to negotiate with him again until his season ended on May 10.

Had Loewen not signed by midnight, he would have gone back into the June 3 draft, and the Orioles would have received a supplemental-round pick (No. 37 overall) as compensation. Many draft analysts predicted Loewen wouldn't make it past the second pick had he gone back into the pool.

"It feels very good to get a young, talented kid in the organization," said Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie. "It was an interesting process, that's for sure."

Orioles officials would not reveal the financial terms of the deal, but Loewen apparently signed a major league contract and was put on the 40-man roster.

He will likely start his professional career at either short-season Single-A Aberdeen or Rookie-level Bluefield. Those teams begin their seasons in June.

"Jim and Mike [Flanagan] were just outstanding," Orioles scouting director Tony DeMacio said after the negotiations ended. "They just did a tremendous job in this process. And it's a credit to the two area scouts that worked with Adam over the last couple years, John Gillette and David Jennings."

Last year, Loewen's adviser, Michael Moye, told the Orioles that Loewen would not sign for less than $3.9 million, and the team said it would not offer more than $2.5 million.

In recent days, Orioles officials indicated that the gap was narrowing.

Several factors were at work.

Tampa Bay has the first overall pick again, and while the Devil Rays are leaning toward picking a position player, the Milwaukee Brewers were interested in Loewen at No. 2. Had Loewen gone back into the draft, he might have had his future controlled by commissioner Bud Selig's old team.

The rest of the baseball industry paid close attention to these negotiations because Loewen's signing bonus figures to set the market for the next draft. Moye knew he would most certainly face the scrutiny of other agents if Loewen decided to lower his asking price too far.

By the same token, the Orioles knew they would face scorn from other teams if they paid anything near the $4 million range.

In 2001, the Philadelphia Phillies gave pitcher Gavin Floyd $4.2 million to sign out of Mount St. Joseph. But several teams felt that was far too much to pay for a high school pitcher and viewed the signing like the $252 million contract the Texas Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez in December 2000 - a one-shot deal that causes everyone to rein in their future spending.

While the Loewen negotiations were going on last summer, Major League Baseball narrowly averted a strike by hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement. That agreement, coupled with a sluggish economy, seemed to lower the going rate for players on last year's free-agent market.

Teams are hoping to see the same effect on signing bonuses for draft picks, and Loewen represents the first major test of that theory.

When the Orioles lost center fielder Gary Matthews to the San Diego Padres on waivers last week, they saved about $645,000, so they could use that money toward Loewen. Matthews' departure also opened up a spot on the 40-man roster.

The highest singing bonus the Orioles had handed out previously was $2.25 million for Beau Hale, their first-round pick (No. 14 overall) in the 2000 draft.

A right-handed pitcher, Hale came out of the University of Texas and has made limited progress in the minor league system because of arm injuries.

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Anaheim Angels

Site:Camden Yards

Time:7:05

TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Angels' Aaron Sele (1-2, 7.53) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (5-3, 4.11)

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