If Adam Loewen is going to make a successful transition into a power-hitting outfielder or first baseman, it won't be in an Orioles uniform.
In a surprising development, Loewen confirmed yesterday that he has signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, turning down an offer from the Orioles, who were confident they would be able to retain their 2002 first-round draft pick.
"It was a lot tougher decision than when I decided to hang up pitching for my career," Loewen said. "I've been an Oriole all my life. I really don't know anything other than the Orioles. In that regard it was tough. But at the same time, I had the chance to play for a team I grew up watching. For me, that opportunity was a big one and I had to really consider it. I ended up talking to a lot of people and getting a lot of advice, and I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a Blue Jay."
The Orioles released Loewen this week, but club president Andy MacPhail made it clear he expected to sign him to a minor league contract. However, Loewen, who is attempting to make the transition to a hitter after recurring elbow injuries ended his once-promising pitching career, received interest from other teams when he cleared waivers. One of those teams was the Blue Jays, the team the Surrey, British Columbia, native grew up rooting for. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston even called Loewen this week to sell him on the organization.
"I don't think it's about money," MacPhail said. "The way it was explained to me, it's all about playing for his national team in Canada and it's not about terms or anything. The way it was explained to me is he grew up there and it's his lifelong dream to play for Toronto. I have no interest in having Baltimore become part of Canada. We're proud members of the United States, and there isn't much we can do about it."
Because Loewen signed a major league deal after he was drafted fourth overall in 2002, he was out of options, meaning the Orioles were going to have to expose him to waivers to send him to the minor leagues, where he would have started the 2009 season and his transformation into a hitter. However, both sides had said all along that they expected to work things out so Loewen would remain in the organization.
That apparently changed when Toronto came calling. Loewen said he and his representation told the Orioles there were "other offers on the table and they knew fully that there were other teams interested.
"It has been something I've been struggling with ever since I got put on waivers and the possibility presented itself," Loewen said. "[The Orioles] fully did what they had to do and I was aware of that. They did everything on their part that they could do to try to sign me back. I love playing in Baltimore and I loved the coaching staff. Even when I went to instructional league, the coaching staff was outstanding. There was no animosity at all. I just thought this was an opportunity that doesn't come along very often. It was tougher than I could say. I'm excited to be a Blue Jay, but I'll never forget my time in Baltimore."
MacPhail chose his words carefully, but it's clear the Orioles were surprised by Loewen's decision. The two sides were working out a deal and were essentially down to negotiating the number of renewal years on Loewen's contract.
The Orioles' offer included a major league spring training invitation. They also pledged to be patient with Loewen, who hasn't faced live pitching regularly since 2003, when he played first base for Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla.
The Orioles believed they had made several concessions to aid Loewen's transformation. Even when it was clear he would not pitch again this season, the Orioles kept Loewen on the 40-man roster, enabling him to accrue more service time.
They permitted Loewen to work with Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley in September and then join the club's instructional league team in Sarasota, Fla. The Orioles were also holding open a spot for him on their Hawaii Winter League team. Loewen said that's what made his decision so difficult, and he denied he had any animosity toward the club.
"I did feel like I wanted to be loyal to the Orioles," said Loewen, who was 8-8 with a 5.38 ERA in 35 career pitching appearances for the Orioles, including 29 starts. "But the opportunity for me was too big. It's something I wanted to do, and there's a chance that it might not come again. All the signs for me pointed to Toronto and getting an opportunity there."