Flashback Friday: Of Orioles Pitchers and Long-Term Deals

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Jimenez Signing

Feb. 21, 2014
[Photo credit: Norm Schimmel (copyright holder)]

The deal the Orioles made with free-agent pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez this week has been hailed as "monumental" and "historic," if only because the Orioles don't do this sort of thing very often.

Eduardo Encina explains:

"The Orioles will be shattering their trend of not handing out four-year deals to free agent pitchers outside the organization."

...

"For an Orioles team that lacked headline free-agent signings in recent years, this deal — which is pending a club physical — is monumental and historic. It is the longest and largest contract the club has given a free-agent pitcher in franchise history."

Encina notes that Jimenez's deal is the O's longest free-agent deal since they signed Ramon Hernandez to a four-year contract in 2006, and the largest since they signed Miguel Tejada to a six-year, $72 million in 2004.

It's still not clear (to me at least) when the Orioles adopted the three-year limit on deals with free-agent pitchers. However, the 1999 and 2000 seasons offer some interesting reference points. It was a time when the O's weren't reticent about doling out contracts longer than three-years to pitchers, but physicals were already a concern in Baltimore.

This week's Flashback Friday looks at three would-be deals or actual agreements from 1999 and 2000 that bear similarities to the current day and may have affected how the Orioles view contracts for starting pitchers.

Scott Erickson: five-year, $32 million deal in 1999

Scott Erickson came to Baltimore in a July 1995 trade with the Minnesota Twins. The Orioles gave up Scott Klingenbeck and Kimera Bartee to acquire his services. Advantage: Baltimore.

In 1998, Erickson led the majors in games started and led the league in complete games with 11. Magic Eight Ball: Signs point to Yes!

And then, after the Orioles' re-upped for five years and $32 million ...

"Erickson underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2000, missed the 2001 season, returned for 2002, then sat out all last season following shoulder surgery. His contract expired after the season, and the Orioles didn't offer him a new one."

The previous paragraph comes from CSN's Rich Dubroff, who identified Erickson's deal among the five worst contracts in Orioles history.

Aaron Sele: The Orioles giveth four years and the Orioles taketh away four years

Prior to the 2000 season, the Orioles signed Aaron Sele to a four-year, $29 million contract. Sele had posted a 38-20 record for the Texas Rangers in the previous two seasons. Concerns arose over Sele's physical (sound familiar?) and the deal fell apart.

The O's public stance sounded a bit like this: "Deal? What deal? I don't know anything about a deal."

"There's no deal in place. They're still reviewing things," Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said. "Somebody outside the club announced there was deal in place. The club has not once said there is a deal, or there's a pending deal, or anything."

Sele ended up signing a two-year, $15 million contract with the Mariners, and Peter Angelos started to earn a reputation as "Dr. No."

Mike Mussina: A dream deferred

I'll keep this one brief because it still hurts.

After ignoring his agent's request that he push for more money, Mussina signed a three-year, $20.45 million deal with the Orioles in 1997. He expressed interest in sticking with the Orioles headed into the 2000 season, but he made it clear that he was going to get paid like a top pitcher, estimating his own value somewhere between Pedro Martinez's $12.5 million average and Kevin Brown's $15 million.

He explained the difference in an AP story.

"I'm pretty sure we're going to do it little differently. The last time I was uncomfortable being a free agent,'' Mussina said. "I'm more comfortable dealing with that situation now.''

"The last time we really had a good club. We'd been to the playoffs (in 1996) and I felt we had the club to get into the Series,'' he said. "I thought this might be my best chance here, so let's stick with it. I really wanted to see if we could make a run. It hasn't worked out that way.

"That was a situation where you were talking about $2 million or $3 million'' over the course of the contract,'' he added. "This is a situation where you're talking about a lot more than that. Did it play against me last time? Possibly. But are things going to play against me this time? I don't think so. I think I've earned the right to be considered one of the best pitchers in the league.''

The O's offered Mussina five years, $60 million at the outset of the 2000 season, below Martinez's annual average salary. Also of note: $2 million of his annual salary would be deferred without interest.

Mussina signed with the Yankees for six years, $88.5 million.

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