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O's finalize deal with Yanks for Wright

O's finalize deal with Yanks for Wright

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BALTIMORE -- The Orioles moved quickly to close a deal on Sunday, acquiring Jaret Wright from the Yankees hours before a deadline that may have made him a free agent. New York, which had the option to buy out Wright's contract, instead sent him -- along with $4 million in cash considerations -- to Baltimore for rookie reliever Chris Britton.

In effect, the Orioles will pay Wright $3 million of his $7 million salary next season, and his presence helps round out the rotation. The 30-year-old is the second-oldest and second-highest-paid pitcher on the staff, and he's second to Kris Benson in both regards. Wright joins Benson and homegrown starters Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen in Baltimore's rotation.

"It had been on the radar for a little while," said Jim Duquette, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations. "We've been talking to them for around two weeks, and it started as a mild dialogue. We had discussions with them about [Gary] Sheffield, and it grew from normal conversations on what you want to do in the offseason."

Wright's name came up early in organizational conversations in Baltimore, too. The right-hander went 7-2 in his final nine decisions and 2-1 against the Orioles, earning acclaim from an unlikely source. Leo Mazzone, Baltimore's pitching coach and Wright's former tutor in Atlanta, couldn't help but notice how hard he was throwing.

Wright has often pitched through shoulder pain, but Mazzone helped coax some of the best results of his career. He set career bests in wins (15), strikeouts (159) and ERA (3.28) with the Braves in 2004, which helped set up his contract with the Yankees. Wright was limited to 40 starts in two seasons with New York, but he posted a 16-12 record.

Had the Yankees elected to buy out the final year of his contract, for $4 million, Wright would have become a free agent. And the Orioles could have signed him under that scenario, but they would've had to compete with several other teams on the open market.

"When we talked at the end of the season about starting pitching, Wright was one of the guys we felt would be available," said Duquette, referring to the option in his contract. "We weren't sure what was going to happen with him, but we liked him for a lot of reasons, and one of the biggest factors was his relationship with Leo.

"We think he's a definite upgrade to the rotation. He was hitting 93-95 [mph] at the end of the year. He's a proven veteran. He's won, he's pitched in the playoffs and he's a winner in terms of what he brings to the clubhouse."

Wright went 11-7 last year, but he made only 27 starts. Wright has pitched more than 150 innings only twice in his career (1998 and 2004). He may not make more than 25 starts in Baltimore -- and he may not last deep into his starts very often -- but he should be a marked upgrade over last year's back-end options, Bruce Chen and Russ Ortiz.

Despite his drawbacks, Wright owns a 68-57 career record. He burst onto the scene as a 21-year-old rookie in 1997, and he was outstanding with the Cleveland Indians in that year's postseason. Wright has made more than 20 starts in a season just four times since then, but he's still young enough to add some more lines to his resume.

Duquette also indicated that the Orioles have heard from Benson's agent, Greg Clifton, on the pitcher's plans for next season. As a veteran traded in the middle of a multi-year contract, Benson had the right to request a trade. He elected not to take advantage of that option, and unless he's traded again, he'll pitch for Baltimore next season.

To get Wright, the Orioles lost Britton, a 280-pound reliever who fared well in his rookie season. The right-hander worked in 52 games last year, notching an 0-2 record and a 3.35 ERA. The former eighth-round selection hadn't pitched at Triple-A before the season, but he'll likely need more seasoning to crack New York's roster.

"To get something of value, you always have to give up something. And we think that when you can get a starting pitcher for a reliever, you do it," said Duquette. "Britton was one of the bright spots in our bullpen, but from that standpoint, we feel we have other guys in the organization who can step up and fill that role from within."

"We are excited with the addition of Chris Britton, who we expect to compete for a role in our bullpen," added Yankees general manager Brian Cashman in a written statement. "This acquisition provides additional flexibility to our pitching staff as we continue the transition toward the 2007 season. We thank Jaret Wright for his contributions as a Yankee and we wish him and his family nothing but the best."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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