The hurdles to Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone fulfilling a longtime goal and working under his best friend, Sam Perlozzo, are nearly all gone now.
The Orioles have agreed in principle to a three-year contract that likely will make Mazzone among the highest-paid pitching coaches in the major leagues. The news, coupled with the Orioles agreeing to send an undisclosed low-level prospect to the Braves to settle the compensation issues, has made a pending announcement little more than a formality.
Mazzone's agent, Jack Reale, and the Orioles were expected to go over the contract late last night and possibly this morning and then present it for league approval. An announcement that the Orioles have hired Mazzone is likely to come this morning, and Mazzone will be introduced to the media as the Orioles' new pitching coach, replacing Ray Miller, early next week.
"We can't get the contracts back and forth today, but we have agreed, and we're going forward to getting this contract done," said Orioles executive vice president for baseball operations Mike Flanagan. "We've agreed to the proposal, but you never can rest until something is complete."
According to sources familiar with the negotiations, the Orioles will pay Mazzone, who has coached six Cy Young Award winners and nine 20-game winners in Atlanta, in the neighborhood of $450,000 a year. It is an approximately $200,000 raise from Mazzone's base salary last season in Atlanta and about $75,000 more than Miller's salary from this past season, according to sources.
To illustrate how important the Orioles' ownership and front office felt Mazzone was to their offseason plans and the importance of his influence on a young pitching staff, consider the case of Lee Mazzilli. When hired as manager in 2003, Mazzilli reportedly signed a $500,000 deal.
Former Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, who quit last week, leading to speculation that Mazzone was headed to New York to work under Joe Torre, was believed to be the highest-paid pitching coach in the American League this season. He was reportedly making approximately $450,000.
"It's not a deal until it's signed by the commissioner, but we are working on the paperwork," said Reale yesterday, declining to discuss specifics of the deal and the process.
"Leo's extremely excited, extremely excited. This is something he's really looking forward to doing. At this stage of his life with family in Maryland, with Sam being the manager and having the chance to work with [Orioles owner] Mr. [Peter] Angelos and Mike Flanagan, I think he's excited about that, and I don't think he's looking back at all."
Mazzone, 57, and Perlozzo were childhood rivals and then friends growing up in Western Maryland. Miller, who had surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm last week, gave Perlozzo permission to search for another pitching coach.
The Orioles and Mazzone began negotiating Wednesday, and a deal was all but finished later that day until compensation issues over the quality of the prospect - according to sources - caused a minor snag. The two teams worked through it yesterday and now all that awaits is league approval.
"It was a very pleasing day," said Angelos, who also officially hired former New York Mets executive Jim Duquette as vice president yesterday. "I think the additions are being made that will help to get the Orioles to the level that everyone is not only asking for, but insisting upon. We are sympathetic to that viewpoint."
Note -- Mazzone will likely be one of two additions to the Orioles coaching staff. Terry Crowley (hitting coach), Tom Trebelhorn (bench) and Dave Cash (first base) are expected to return, likely in their current capacity. Rick Dempsey is contemplating an offer to move to the bullpen, leaving an opening at third base. One option to fill the vacancy is Triple-A Ottawa manager Dave Trembley.email@example.com