O's sign top pick Matusz to major league contract

Deadline Deal

August 16, 2008|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

For the second consecutive year, the Orioles negotiated with their top draft pick until the final day before eventually getting their man.

Shortly after 3 p.m., the Orioles agreed to terms with University of San Diego left-hander Brian Matusz on a four-year, major league contract that included a $3.2 million bonus and will be worth, at the minimum, $3.47 million.

Matusz, 21, the fourth overall pick in June's draft, immediately joins the Orioles' 40-man roster and shoots toward the top of their prospect list.

"I'm excited. It's been a long summer, a lot of talks going on these last few weeks," said Matusz, the 2008 West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year after he won 12 games, struck out 141 batters and posted a 1.71 ERA.

"The last few days have been hectic. I haven't slept much, with all the traveling and trying to get a deal done," he said. "It's a relief now to have it done and start my professional career, and do what I've loved to do since I was a little kid: play baseball."

The Orioles believed all along that they would sign Matusz, but their talks with his agent, Marc Agar, dragged, partially because Matusz sought a major league deal, something the Orioles hadn't awarded since 2002 to first-round pick Adam Loewen.

"We did try to take it down another road for a good part of the summer," said Joe Jordan, the club's scouting director. "But there was a point in time that we had to realize as a club that we needed to do this to make this thing come together."

Had the Orioles failed to sign Matusz by midnight yesterday, they would have forfeited the rights to him and received a similar compensatory pick in next year's draft.

Matusz, widely considered the most advanced pitcher in college baseball this season, said the major league component, which officially begins in 2009, was "the main key to finalize the deal."

His $3.2 million signing bonus ties Loewen's for the second largest in club history. Last year, the Orioles gave Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, the fifth overall pick, a franchise-record $6 million signing bonus minutes before the midnight deadline. Wieters' deal, however, was a minor league contract.

By nature of a major league deal, Matusz can't be removed from the 40-man roster without being exposed to waivers. He will have four minor league options, meaning he could be sent to the minors without passing through waivers until the spring of 2013. Like any player, he won't be eligible for free agency until he accumulates at least six years of major league service time.

Matusz is expected to be introduced to the Camden Yards crowd Friday night against the New York Yankees and then will go to Aberdeen to work out with the IronBirds staff but will not play in a game - similar to what Wieters did last year. Matusz will then represent the Orioles in either the Arizona Fall League or Hawaiian Winter League.

With the Matusz signing, the Orioles have come to terms with nine of their first 10 picks and 14 of their top 15. The Orioles were still negotiating last night with 44th-round pick Kevin Brady, a Gaithersburg High right-hander who has a baseball scholarship to Clemson.

But Matusz was officially in the fold.

"At the end of the day, we got the guy we wanted," Jordan said. "He is part of our organization, so anything we went through was worth it."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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