FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Pulled in a new direction by their changing front office staff, the Orioles still felt the tug of their past. Two weeks of negotiations made certain they wouldn't ignore it.
The Orioles reached agreement early yesterday with outfielder B.J. Surhoff on a minor-league contract, perhaps leading to his return to Camden Yards for Opening Day on March 31. Surhoff is guaranteed $1 million in base salary if he makes the major-league club and can earn another $1 million in incentives.
Surhoff will receive $75,000 each for spending 30 and 60 days on the roster, $100,000 for 90 and 120 days, and $125,000 for 150 and 180 days. Another $400,000 is tied into plate appearances.
"The biggest thing, I'm happy to be playing again," he said yesterday after attending a news conference at the warehouse. "Missing all of last year basically and having the chance to play is exciting to me whether it were here or not. But it's better to be here because this is where I had some of my best years. ... Hopefully, I can help get this ship going in the right direction."
It was a productive morning for the Orioles, who also avoided an arbitration hearing with second baseman Jerry Hairston by signing him to a one-year deal worth $1.55 million. Hairston, who most likely will bat first or second in the lineup this season, also can receive $75,000 in performances bonuses. His agent, Casey Close, originally submitted a salary offer of $1.8 million, while the Orioles countered at $1.15 million.
The New York Mets were more aggressive than the Orioles in their initial pursuit of Surhoff, but luxury tax concerns limited their offer to $550,000 with another $200,000 in bonuses. Infielder Jay Bell accepted the same deal from the Mets on Tuesday.
Surhoff, 38, played for the Orioles from 1996 until his trade to the Atlanta Braves in July 2000. His family still lives in Cockeysville.
Unable to find a deal that assured him a place on a major-league roster, he settled for competing this spring in an organization he never wanted to leave. And the Orioles, convinced that his surgically repaired knee could handle the strain of a 17th season, valued his experience and the run production he might provide.
"It basically gives us someone who has played here before and been around a winning environment," said Mike Flanagan, vice president of baseball operations, as he waited to board his flight to Fort Lauderdale, where pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report today.
"He had some great years here and he's the type of player that we're looking to add to the roster. There's flexibility. He plays multiple positions, which certainly is another asset that he has."
Surhoff, part of the Orioles' most recent playoff team in 1997, appeared in 25 games with the Braves last season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. He underwent reconstructive surgery on May 15, but was deemed healthy enough by the Orioles' training staff to warrant further interest by the club.
Because of a cramped 40-man roster, the Orioles pushed hard for a minor-league deal that they considered low in risk. They've reached similar agreements with pitcher Rick Helling and infielders Jeff Reboulet and John Valentin.
"The only reason he signed a minor-league deal was to help the Orioles with their roster issues," said Surhoff's agent, Gregg Clifton. "He didn't want to do something that would be detrimental to the team."
Surhoff appeared in 162 games in consecutive seasons with the Orioles, batting .308 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs in 1999. He was hitting .293 in 75 at-bats last season before the injury.
"He's so happy to be back in Baltimore," Clifton said. "Any time you can work out a deal that satisfies a player's professional and family needs, you feel good about it."
The Orioles remain hopeful of acquiring a power hitter for a lineup often starved for runs last season. They could package one of their starting pitchers, a reliever and an outfielder or first baseman because of the depth at those positions.