Orioles sign lefty Mercker for $2.8M, with option year Incentive-laden deal heads off arbitration


The prospect of going to arbitration with newly acquired Oriole Kent Mercker two days before spring training began didn't exactly appeal to club executives, who felt relieved after signing the pitcher to a contract yesterday.

Mercker, 28, will be paid a base salary of $2.825 million in 1996, and if he pitches 180 innings, a $3.3 million option for 1997 will automatically go into effect. The Orioles can exercise the '97 option even if the left-hander doesn't reach 180 innings.

Mercker's contract is thick with incentives: If he reaches 170 innings, he'll receive a $25,000 bonus, and an additional $25,000 for reaching 180 innings, and then 190 and 200. If he pitches 210 innings, he'll get an additional $50,000, and another $50,000 for 220 innings. Mercker, who found work hard to come by as the No. 5 starter with the Atlanta Braves, hasn't pitched more than 143 innings in a season.

Mercker had asked for $3.19 million in arbitration, while the Orioles offered $2.6 million, in a case scheduled for tomorrow.

"We thought it was important, from a psychological standpoint, that we agree to a contract," said Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone. "Neither Pat [Gillick, the Orioles GM] nor really likes arbitration. I don't see the merit in trying to downplay the merit of a team member.

"We wanted to try to avoid the arbitration process. We want this to be a long-term relationship [with Mercker]."

Gillick doesn't foresee a settlement in the Orioles' other arbitration case, scheduled for Feb. 15. Left-hander Arthur Rhodes is asking for $675,000; the Orioles are offering $300,000.

NOTES: Mike Easler, hired by the Orioles to be a roving minor-league hitting instructor last fall, has turned in his resignation, effective Feb. 15. According to others in the organization, Easler was angry because new manager Davey Johnson didn't pick him to be the major-league hitting coach. Johnson interviewed Easler in November, but ultimately selected former Yankees hitting coach Rick Down. . . . The Orioles have agreed to terms with pitcher Garrett Stephenson (Linganore, Boonsboro), who was added to the 40-man roster last fall.

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