CLEVELAND - First-round draft pick Brian Matusz spent yesterday in Baltimore taking a physical, as the Orioles and his agent continued to work toward a deal before tonight's deadline.
The Orioles, who took the left-handed pitcher from the University of San Diego with the fourth overall pick in the June draft, have until midnight to reach an agreement. If they can't, they will forfeit the rights to Matusz and get a similar compensatory pick in next year's draft.
However, it appears things won't get to that point. According to sources close to the negotiations, the two sides have made significant progress on a deal in the last couple of days and it appears that barring something unforeseen, they will agree on a contract before the deadline.
"I don't really have a whole lot [to say] right now," Orioles director of scouting Joe Jordan said early yesterday. "We're moving forward. It's positive. Maybe by the end of the day, we'll have a feel for better things. Negotiations are ongoing."
Orioles president Andy MacPhail said last night that there has been no change in the negotiations since the previous day, when the two sides arranged for Matusz to fly in from the West Coast.
Matusz's agent, Marc Agar, has not returned calls seeking comment. Both sides have been mum about the type of deal and financial package that Matusz has been seeking. However, the fact that he was in town taking a physical is a sign that the two sides are discussing a major league deal. That type of contract is contingent on a player passing a physical examination.
Last year, the Orioles gave Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft, a franchise-record $6 million signing bonus, but it was not a major league deal and he didn't take a full physical before the agreement was reached just minutes before the deadline.
The Orioles haven't given out a major league deal to a draft pick since signing pitcher Adam Loewen to a five-year pact in 2003.
Essentially, a major league deal means that Matusz, generally regarded as the top pitcher in the draft, will get a guaranteed contract and the club will have less flexibility in using minor league options.
"We have things to work out, but we're not there," Jordan said. "I think everyone has a pretty good feeling about it, but I don't want to say more than that."
If Matusz signs, the Orioles will have agreed to terms with 14 of their top 15 picks. The only unsigned player in that group is 10th-rounder Chris Herrmann, a third baseman from Alvin Community College in Texas. Negotiations broke off between Herrmann and the Orioles several weeks ago.