Hairston, Matos sign one-year deals

By beating deadline, Orioles left with three potential arbitration cases

January 21, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles signed second baseman Jerry Hairston and center fielder Luis Matos to one-year contracts yesterday, avoiding arbitration with both players shortly before the deadline to submit salary figures to the commissioner's office.

Hairston received $1.65 million, and Matos got $975,000.

The signings reduced the Orioles' number of potential arbitration cases to three, as they formally exchanged contract figures with right fielder Jay Gibbons, third baseman Melvin Mora and left-handed reliever B.J. Ryan.

It was a good day all around for the Orioles, a day that suggested this year's arbitration process should be fairly painless.

"Obviously, it took a little while [with Hairston and Matos]," said Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie. "But there's really no pain involved in any of this."

Based on the figures, the Orioles have relatively small gaps to bridge with Gibbons and Ryan. And though the gulf is considerably bigger with Mora, the Orioles are moving closer to signing him to a multi-year contract.

Mora filed his arbitration number at $3.3 million, and the Orioles countered at $2.4 million. But two industry sources yesterday said both sides are optimistic that a multi-year deal can be struck this week.

With Mora expressing a strong desire to stay in Baltimore, the Orioles are hoping to sign him to a three-year deal. Otherwise, he would be eligible for free agency after the 2005 season.

Mora was the team's lone All-Star representative last season, when he hit .317 with 15 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .418 on-base percentage.

Gibbons has also said he would like to sign a long-term deal, but this is his first time through arbitration, and for now, the team is steering him toward a one-year deal. He won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2006 season.

Yesterday, Gibbons filed at $2.8 million, and the Orioles countered at $2.4 million.

Ryan, who is going through arbitration for the second time, filed at $1.55 million, and the Orioles countered at $1 million.

Last year, the Orioles had three arbitration cases that dragged into the middle of February - Hairston, Mora and Sidney Ponson - and they settled with Hairston just 30 minutes before going into their hearing before an independent arbitrator.

Those hearings have been known to drive a wedge between players and their teams because the player has to listen to members of his own organization tear down his performance.

Last year, Hairston made $1.55 million in his first year of arbitration. He received only a slight bump in pay this time, but that's mostly because he missed 3 1/2 months with a broken bone in his right foot.

At the time of the injury, Hairston was batting .287 and leading the American League with 14 stolen bases. He returned on Sept. 4, but the foot was still bothering him, and he didn't steal another base.

"I know I missed a lot of time last year, and I'm just thankful the Orioles gave me a raise," Hairston said. "I was having the kind of year I wanted to have until I got hurt. But now the foot feels great. I'm just anxious to get the season started."

Matos made $310,000 last year and had a breakout season, batting .303 with 13 home runs, 45 RBIs and a .353 on-base percentage. He qualified for arbitration as a Super Two - baseball's special exception for players with slightly less than the requisite three years of major league service.

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