Urged by owner Peter Angelos, the Orioles completed the second of three negotiating priorities yesterday by agreeing with pitcher Mike Mussina on a three-year contract extension. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the extension is believed worth slightly more than $21 million.
Mussina, the eighth-leading winner in team history, cited his desire to remain in Baltimore as a primary motivation for not pursuing free agency -- and a potentially more lucrative deal -- after the season.
"I couldn't see myself playing anywhere else," he said.
An April 26 breakfast meeting between Angeles and Mussina provided the jump-start for the negotiations. Within hours, they had narrowed the issues including deferred money. The team had hoped to defer $1.5 million of each year's salary without interest. Mussina said he and the team reached an agreement in principle early last week. Details were completed on Friday, but the announcement delayed until after yesterday's start against the Oakland Athletics.
Rather than speak in dollars and cents, Mussina spoke of fan interest and a cohesive clubhouse.
"You go out there and try something else and you don't know how good you had it," he said.
Yesterday's announcement ends talks that heated then halted during spring training. General manager Pat Gillick adhered to a philosophy of declining to negotiate during the season. However, Angelos chose not to wait.
Mussina's signing comes after the club extended third baseman Cal Ripken for $15.1 million over the next two years. Still remaining is center fielder Brady Anderson.
Mussina said the final agreement represented little shift from what had been offered this spring. The Orioles had offered a $21.5 million deal plus a club option that would have pushed the contract to $27.5 million over four seasons.
According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the Players Association was disappointed that Mussina did not press for more money. Mussina settled for a lower average salary than John Smoltz and Roger Clemens. Clemens received an average $8.25 million salary from the Toronto Blue Jays when he signed a three-year, $24.75 million contract last winter, and Smoltz re-signed with the Atlanta Braves for $31 million over four years (a $7.75 million average). Advised by his agent, Arn Tellem, to press harder, Mussina instead chose peace of mind.
"I feel good about it," Mussina said. "I'm sure if I had gone out and seen what was out there, who knows what would have happened. I'm not going to sit around next year or the year after and say I should have waited. I wanted to play here. These guys wanted me to play here. So I'm going to stay."
Mussina has won 19 games each of the past two seasons and owns 93 wins in 167 major-league starts. He also possesses the highest winning percentage (.689) among active pitchers with 50 or more decisions.
Along with his love for Baltimore, geography played a factor in the decision. Mussina, 28, was born and raised in Pennsylvania about three hours from Baltimore, a short drive for family and friends who continue to support him.
"I think the reason we wanted to do it was for the sense of security knowing where I was going to be next year and for the years after that," he said. "If that wasn't important to me, then I would have waited and played the game."
Though anticipated, Mussina's signing brought a sense of relief to the clubhouse.
"All I can say is it's about time. To me, it was a given," catcher Chris Hoiles said. "He's a guy who's a franchise player. He's going to get you close to 20 wins each year. The way pitching is nowadays, you've got to hold on to guys like that."
"You can never know for sure what's going to happen with these kind of negotiations," said Ripken, whose own contract was settled within 40 minutes of the season's first pitch. "But Mike wanted to be an Oriole and everybody wanted him to be an Oriole. He's a very important part of the immediate future of the Orioles."
The focus now can turn to Anderson, who gave the Orioles 50 home runs and 21 stolen bases last season. Talks with his agent, Jeff Booris, are expected to intensify within the next severals weeks, again with Angelos as the driving force.
"Angelos made up his mind he was going to get all three of us done, and once he makes up his mind to do something, it gets done," Anderson said. "It went on for a while with Mike, but there was never too much question."
Added Ripken: "I'd like to see Brady get taken care of. The kind of players you're talking about with Mike and Brady Anderson. you're not going to find that. If you have it, there's a certain stability. You know what you've got, and it's a win-win for everyone."
Pub Date: 5/04/97