Club signs No. 1 pick at 11th hour

Orioles land top pick Wieters at 11th hour

The Wieters Situation

August 16, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

In an 11th-hour deal that seemed doomed for much of the past few days, the Baltimore Orioles signed Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters to a contract that will pay the 21-year-old approximately $6 million in a signing bonus.

Principal owner Peter Angelos and new president Andy MacPhail worked on the deal while in Toronto for the quarterly owners' meetings last night and, with 10 minutes left before the midnight amateur signing deadline, reached a pact during a phone call with Wieters' agent, Scott Boras.

"They got the deal done," said an elated Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan. "You can tell the city of Baltimore that the old evil owner stepped up and took care of things tonight. We had to fight to the end."

Wieters, the fifth overall pick who hit .358 with 10 home runs as a Tech junior, was almost certainly headed back to college for his senior year. He and Boras were reportedly asking for a deal worth about $11 million - similar to that of Maryland native Mark Teixeira, a Boras client and former Georgia Tech star, in 2001 - and the Orioles held steadfast at about $5 million for much of the past week. He dropped to fifth in the draft because of signability concerns but was possibly the best player available.

With just minutes left to go at the deadline, several Orioles front office employees believed the club would have to settle for a compensatory draft pick in 2008 instead of the 6-foot-5 catcher with a strong arm, powerful bat and leadership skills.

"There were times that it didn't look too encouraging," MacPhail said. "We're pleased to have him in the fold."

The move was not just landmark in its price - it is the second-largest signing bonus in baseball history behind the $6.1 million given to Arizona's Justin Upton in 2005, and the most the Orioles have paid an amateur, eclipsing the $4.02 million to left-hander Adam Loewen in May 2003 - but in who orchestrated it.

The organization hadn't selected a first-rounder represented by Boras since No. 1 overall pick Ben McDonald in 1989. Angelos and Boras, both respected attorneys and intense negotiators, had worked together only with lower profile players - the last Boras free agent the Orioles signed to a multi-year deal was David Segui in 2000.

Late last night, however, the Orioles, completed two deals with Boras in a matter of hours. The club also signed fifth-rounder Jacob Arrieta, a 6-foot-4, 21-year-old right-hander out of Texas Christian University.

Arrieta, who is expected to report to Single-A Aberdeen pending a physical, agreed to a $1.1 million signing bonus. He was 9-3 with a 3.01 ERA this season, after going 14-4 with a 2.35 ERA in his standout campaign in 2006. He was the Orioles' third-highest pick, behind University of Central Florida pitcher Timothy Bascom (fourth round, 129th overall).

The Orioles did not have second- or third-rounders because of free agent signings this winter.

In the end, they signed 38 of their 48 draft picks and seven of eight in the first 10 rounds.

This would have been the second time the Orioles had failed to sign a top-10 overall pick in the past three years. In 2004, they selected Rice University pitcher Wade Townsend with the eighth pick overall and could not agree to a contract.

He went back to school and, under the old rules, the Orioles received a supplemental first rounder in 2005. Ultimately, the decision worked out for the team. Townsend was taken in 2005 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but missed a year due to elbow ligament surgery. He has struggled in his comeback this year in the Single-A South Atlantic League.

In contrast, the Orioles used the supplemental pick, 48th overall, in 2005 on Cal Poly pitcher Garrett Olson, who rocketed through the minors and is now in the Orioles rotation.

But, with a last-minute deal for Wieters, the Orioles made sure history didn't repeat itself.

Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

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