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Matusz closer to deal with Orioles

Matusz closer to deal with Orioles

CLEVELAND -- Orioles 2008 first-round Draft pick Brian Matusz inched closer to a deal Thursday, with one source indicating that the two sides have agreed to terms on a Major League contract with a $3.1 million signing bonus. Joe Jordan, Baltimore's scouting director, denied that there's an agreement in place but confirmed some of the elements in question.

"We don't have an agreement," he said Thursday morning. "They've definitely been asking for a Major League contract for quite some time. I think we've tried to look at it both ways, and that's what we've done. We're close, and we've jumped some hurdles in the last 48 hours. Hopefully, we'll continue to do that until we get something done. But we're not there yet."

Matusz, the fourth-overall selection in June's First-Year Player Draft, is nearing an 11:59 p.m. ET Friday deadline to agree to terms or go back into next year's Draft pool, and things seemed dour as recently as two days ago. Then the Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday night that Matusz, a left-handed pitcher, was in Baltimore to undergo a physical examination, indicating a deal was close.

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Still, despite the tectonic shift in negotiating posture, many of the players involved refused to show their hands.

"All I can say at this point is that the contract discussions are ongoing," said Matusz advisor Marc Agar in an e-mail response to a request for comment. "I will have no other comment."

"There's no relief yet," Jordan said Thursday morning. "Until we get a deal, I don't have any relief."

Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's president of baseball operations, expressed much the same sentiment.

"We've made some progress, but we don't have a deal yet," he said when reached Thursday afternoon. "I can't comment on the details. We're still working on some things, and you never have deal until you have a deal."

Two days earlier, MacPhail had a different take. The executive said Tuesday that the Orioles had considered the potential damage wrought by relinquishing the Draft rights to Matusz, a worst-case scenario for team and prospect. Fortunately for MacPhail and the Orioles, the damage has been softened due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

MacPhail had said that Baltimore would be awarded with a high compensatory pick if it couldn't sign Matusz, which gave him something else to consider when weighing the current draftee's value.

"I think you have to, when you've gone this far," he said. "Fortunately, we'd be taking the fifth pick in the country and we wouldn't be getting the 35th pick. It's a lot more palatable now than it was a few years ago prior to the last CBA."

If Matusz doesn't come to an agreement with the Orioles, he'd either have to return for his senior season at the University of San Diego, play for an independent league team or sit out until the next Draft. And then, even if he was selected as high as he was this season, he'd have to begin the negotiation game all over again with a brand new team.

Part of the problem with reaching an agreement with Matusz appears to be the rest of his peers. Six of the top 10 Draft picks are still unsigned, and one of them -- Washington draftee Aaron Crow -- is a similar talent reportedly seeking a huge payday. The market hasn't really been set for either player, and whichever one signs first may affect the other's deal.

Prior to Thursday, Matusz was believed to be seeking a signing bonus worth $5 million or a Major League contract, both of which were considered sticking points for the Orioles. Baltimore has only given out one Major League deal to a draftee in recent seasons, and that went to Adam Loewen, who recently suffered an injury that ended his pitching career.

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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