Mazzone, O's near deal

Sources say pitching coach could agree to terms today



An agreement could be finalized today that will enable the Atlanta Braves' Leo Mazzone to become the Orioles' next pitching coach, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations.

Mazzone, lauded as one of the top pitching coaches in baseball, appeared to be the leading candidate for the New York Yankees' and Orioles' vacancies. He withdrew from the Yankees' consideration yesterday morning because of his preference to come to Baltimore and work alongside longtime friend and Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo.

The Associated Press reported that Mazzone and the Orioles reached an agreement on a three-year contract late Wednesday night, hours after Mazzone ended discussions with the Yankees.

"The deal is finished business," according to a source close to the negotiations, who spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity.

The only holdup to the announcement of the deal, according to league sources, is for the Orioles and Braves to work out compensation for Mazzone, who has been in the Atlanta organization since 1979 and the Braves' pitching coach since 1990.

According to league sources, the compensation issues are likely not deal-breaking and the Orioles are confident Mazzone will be their next pitching coach, replacing Ray Miller.

Mazzone's contract is up in three weeks, and even if compensation can't be worked out, the Orioles would appear to be able to hire Mazzone without needing Atlanta's approval.

Asked yesterday afternoon if the situation will be resolved quickly, Braves executive vice president and general manager John Schuerholz, who had given the Orioles permission to interview the coach, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I'm not real good at guessing, but it may."

Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan denied a deal with Mazzone had been reached but said he couldn't comment further on the situation.

Meanwhile, Flanagan is likely to announce today that New York Mets senior vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette, the Mets' former general manager, has been hired as Orioles vice president, according to team sources.

Duquette, 39, had his second interview within a week's span yesterday and agreed to the job offer, according to sources.

"We had some very meaningful talks today, but nothing has been completed," Flanagan said last night. "Talks went well, but at this point, it hasn't been finalized."

It is doubtful the hirings of Duquette and Mazzone would be announced simultaneously. Regardless, the Orioles are expected to complete a huge coup in nabbing Mazzone.

The speculation was that if Mazzone was to leave Bobby Cox, who has managed the Braves to 14 consecutive division titles, he was ticketed to New York to replace the departed Mel Stottlemyre and become Joe Torre's pitching coach.

Given a window to negotiate by the league, the two sides talked, but Mazzone's agent, Jack Reale, said last night that the "discussions that we had with the Yankees came and went without an agreement."

The news was cheered in Atlanta, where at least one television station reported that since the Yankees were out of the picture, Mazzone was returning to the Braves.

However, according to several league sources, if Mazzone was to leave Atlanta, he was more intrigued by coming to Baltimore to team with Perlozzo. The two grew up together in Western Maryland and after being competitors in American Legion Baseball, they became best friends.

When they were in the early stages of their coaching career, Mazzone, 57, who still has family in Maryland, moved about three houses away from Perlozzo in Cumberland. Perlozzo was the best man at Mazzone's wedding.

Perlozzo said he was pleased with Miller but had always dreamed of having Mazzone as his pitching coach if the situation ever presented itself. Miller, who had surgery last week to repair an aortic aneurysm, gave Perlozzo permission to talk to another pitching coach before his surgery.

Mazzone's credentials led recently to declare him the top assistant coach ever in sports. Known for his intensity and his constant sway in the dugout while he focuses on every pitch, Mazzone has mentored six Cy Young Award winners and nine 20-game winners.

Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine are his most prized pupils, but Mazzone perhaps deserves more credit for his reclamation project pitchers such as Jaret Wright, Mike Hampton and Chris Hammond, who found their form under his tutelage.

From 1992 through this year, the Braves ranked either first or second in league ERA every season but two. Current Orioles starter Bruce Chen worked with Mazzone in the Braves' organization for seven seasons and said yesterday that his philosophy is similar to Miller's.

This article was updated by staff with information from the Associated Press.

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