In recent years, the Orioles have become accustomed to going down to the wire before signing a deal with their top draft pick. The drama really heightened on Friday afternoon, though, when the Orioles and LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman agreed to a $4.32 million signing bonus just before the 5 p.m. deadline.
“It was seconds [to spare],” first-year Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich said.
The bonus — $120,000 higher than major league baseball’s suggested slot for the fourth overall pick — is the third largest in Orioles history behind the $6 million given to catcher Matt Wieters in 2007 and the $5.25 million received by shortstop Manny Machado in 2011. Last year’s top pick, right-hander Dylan Bundy, signed a $6.225 million major league deal, which included a bonus of $4 million.
“A lot of terms to discuss today, several actually, more than I would’ve liked to have had,” Rajsich said. “But we continued our dialogue like we had been doing the last several days. And I think we had a pretty good rapport with the representatives. Each side knew what the other side was trying to do, and there was give and take on both sides so I was real confident ... and optimistic that we could get it done.”
After putting on an Orioles cap and a No. 12 jersey over a purple shirt and tie at his introductory media conference, Gausman said he was relieved that the haggling was over.
“It’s been kind of stressful, to be honest. I didn’t sleep very much last night,” said Gausman, who received a standing ovation from the Camden Yards crowd before the fourth inning of Friday night’s game against the Detroit Tigers. “Because I got my physical done today, I wasn’t allowed to eat from midnight to about 1:30 [p.m. Friday]. I was a little bit grumpy the whole day. ... After I ate, I definitely felt a lot better. But I was confident that we were going to get a deal done. I’m just so blessed right now to have this opportunity. And just really excited about this road I am going to be starting soon.”
Where the 21-year-old right-hander with the mid-90s fastball and plus changeup starts his pro career has not yet been determined. Gausman, who was 12-2 with a 2.77 ERA and threw 123 2/3 innings in 18 games (17 starts) this season at LSU, will go to Sarasota for instruction. But because of his heavy collegiate workload, it’s likely the Orioles will limit his innings in 2012.
“That’s a conversation that we need to have with Kevin, because I think he pitched over 120 innings this year for LSU,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “So we need to have that conversation before we come up with what the plan is, and we’ll have that conversation in the next couple days.”
Gausman had told a New Orleans paper earlier this week that he was seriously considering a return to LSU for his junior season — a typical ploy during high-stake negotiations.
“I love LSU. I think I always will. Baton Rouge will always be a second home to me, so it was a tough decision, but I’m just happy we got this done,” said Gausman, who is originally from Centennial, Colo. “I am going to be starting soon with a great young organization that is up and coming. I think this is the perfect time for me to get started in this organization. And I’ll hopefully be able to make an impact eventually.”
Due to the new collective bargaining agreement, the negotiating window was a month shorter than last year and there was less wiggle room as well. If the Orioles had exceeded the allotted figure for their top 10 signees — $6,826,900 — they would have had to pay a tax for the first time. And if they had exceeded the cap by more than 5 percent, they would have lost a 2013 draft pick.
The Orioles signed nine of their top 10 picks, and Gausman was the only one that exceeded slot. They saved $5,000 on their ninth pick and $115,000 on their 10th, which allowed them to use the extra $120,000 on Gausman without penalty.
The only player in the top 10 the Orioles didn’t sign was Texas prep lefty Colin Poche, who decided to attend Arkansas.
“They were open to a counter offer, we made it and it was still a no,” Rajsich said about Poche. “So that made the [extra] money available for him to go to Kevin.”
Overall, the club signed 30 of its 40 draft picks.
“I think we accomplished what we tried to do,” Rajsich said. “Actually, I am pretty pleased with the draft overall. Now getting Kevin, he was the keystone of the whole things and it’s nice getting him here.”
Now, the quirky Gausman, who ate doughnuts between innings of his starts at LSU and is a self-proclaimed goofball, said he’s excited to soak up Baltimore, from its food to its landmarks.
“Now that I am definitely going to be an Oriole and I am an Oriole, I want to go out and experience the things in Baltimore that I have heard so much about, Fells Point and all the different things, the harbor,” he said. “Being from Denver, those things are completely a whole other world for me.”