O's ink Matusz to Major League deal
Team's top '08 Draft pick will immediately join 40-man roster
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles may not have signed their top draftee with the same amount of intrigue as last season, but they were just as effective nonetheless. Brian Matusz, the fourth overall selection in June's First-Year Player Draft, signed a Major League contract with a signing bonus worth $3.2 million with Baltimore on Friday afternoon, around eight hours before the midnight ET deadline.
The Matusz signing closely paralleled the case of Matt Wieters, whom the Orioles selected fifth overall in the '07 Draft. But Wieters took things further by going all the way to the wire, signing just nine minutes before Baltimore would've had to forfeit his rights. Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations, was happy that his team didn't have to go through that two years in a row.
"Well, we're pleased. We're always excited to add quality pitching," said MacPhail when reached on Friday afternoon. "I think we would've preferred it, in our world, a little sooner than it happened, but all's well that ends well. I think we were pretty clear the last couple days here that we were going to get it done. In a perfect world, it might have been done earlier, but we've got no complaints. That's for sure."
Matusz, who pitched for San Diego University and led the nation in strikeouts (141) and posted a 1.71 ERA en route to the West Coast Conference Player of the Year award, will immediately be placed on the 40-man roster. The Major League contract limits the amount of option years that the Orioles will be able to keep him in the Minor Leagues, but many analysts think he'll be able to rise quickly.
Baltimore hadn't awarded a draftee a Major League contract since 2003, when Adam Loewen inked his deal. Loewen -- who tied Matusz and former first-round pick Ben McDonald for the highest Baltimore Draft selections -- recently hurt his elbow again and had to retire as a pitcher.
Partially because of that big league deal, the Orioles will have to squeeze Loewen through waivers to revive his career as a hitter within the organization, but MacPhail and scouting director Joe Jordan are confident that the Major League gambit is warranted for Matusz.
"There were two different ways to do it," said Jordan. "We pursued the Minor League contract as long as we could but we just realized that this was something that would work for us. We decided we would go this way because that was what we needed to do. We're very happy with it. We're very happy with the terms and very happy with the fact that we've added such a quality player. It's very exciting."
"I think it's just a unique set of circumstances, a special set of circumstances," added MacPhail. "When you're drafting that high and taking a pitcher as advanced as Brian is, it started to make sense for us. That's why we felt that it made sense to go out that way."
If the two sides hadn't reached an agreement, the Orioles would've lost the prospect's Draft rights and he would've had to choose between returning for his senior season, playing for an independent league team or sitting out until the next Draft. And then, even if he had been selected as high as he was this season, he'd have had to begin the negotiation game all over again with a brand new team.
Matusz, for his part, said the Major League contract was important to him and that he was ready to begin his pro career.
"It's been a long summer with all the negotiations going on, but I'm just happy we got the deal done finally," he said as part of a conference call. "I really hope to do what I love to do most: Play baseball. And now it's time for me to train myself and get ready for this fall."
The contract was signed too late for Matusz to pitch for any organized full-season league, and MacPhail said that he'd like to get him back out to test himself in the Arizona Fall League or a reasonable facsimile before next year's Spring Training.
"We'd like him to take a similar path as Wieters and [Jake] Arrieta did last year," he said. "He won't start until this fall or Winter League -- Arizona or wherever. He may work out with a team but he really won't be a part of a National Association squad for 2008."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.