Loewen, Guthrie offer case studies
As O's consider Major League deal for Matusz, a history lesson
CLEVELAND -- With the Orioles reportedly poised to offer first-round draft choice Brian Matusz a Major League contract, perhaps it might be instructive to review how that gambit worked out for two members of the current team. Both Adam Loewen and Jeremy Guthrie signed Major League deals after the Draft, and both had wildly varying circumstances.
Guthrie, like Matusz, was a proven commodity coming from a Division I university when he inked his pact. He said that the big league deal wasn't his request as much as a compromise between his representation and Cleveland's front office. Most importantly, Guthrie felt his deal didn't affect his timetable as much as it affected the team's expectations.
"We asked for a bonus. They didn't want to do a bonus and they offered me a Major League contract," said Guthrie, the 22nd overall pick in 2002. "I can tell you how it impacted me. It didn't impact me at all. I pitched the same whether I had a $3 million bonus or a $4 million contract. ... It may have [increased expectations], but it still didn't affect the way I pitched."
Indeed, Guthrie started out at Double-A Akron and made it as far as Triple-A Buffalo in his first season. The right-hander repeated the same trajectory the next season and pitched sparingly at the big league level in 2004 and '05. But even after pitching well in '06, Guthrie found himself out of his organization's plans the next season, crowded out by other arms.
He doesn't have any theories as to why that happened, but he allowed that the Indians may have been saved a decision had he been given a Minor League contract after being drafted. That way, he would've had a few more option years. Guthrie wound up getting claimed off waivers by the Orioles, and he said he was ready to contribute as soon as he switched teams.
"It affected everybody outside of me. The fans, the organization. They act more different than the player does," he said. "If a player has a true desire to perform well and pitch well, he should have that whether or not he has a timetable that's been increased. I think it affects the expectations outside of the individual himself. It all starts with the outside people.
"It took me a few years to iron out some things that didn't go well for me, and it would've taken a few years whether I had a Major League contract or not. It's not like I was going faster or slower because of my contract. The outcome probably would've been different, but as a pitcher I would've progressed exactly the same from year to year."
As for Loewen, the Orioles had a different situation on their hands. Loewen, the fourth overall pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, didn't sign right away and got hours from the next year's deadline to re-enter the Draft. The Orioles enticed him to sign with a five-year Major League contract that all but started his promotion schedule the day he inked it.
The southpaw, who was a prep player when drafted and a junior college player when he signed, was forced to rise from the lower levels of the organization to the Majors in just three-plus seasons. Loewen spent his first seven starts in rookie ball, and then worked for Class A Delmarva and Class A Frederick over the next two years.
Then, with the Orioles facing a decision one year down the line, they pushed him harder. Loewen worked sparingly at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Ottawa in 2006 -- making just 12 appearances between the two levels -- before graduating to the big leagues for good. He was out of options and in the rotation the next season, perhaps before he was ready.
Loewen subsequently injured his elbow twice and had to prematurely end his pitching career. The same thing might have happened with a longer stay in the Minor Leagues, but Loewen undoubtedly would've had more time to develop if he had signed a different type of contract. Now, the Orioles need to slide him through waivers just to let him attempt a career as a hitter.
Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, who served as a field boss in the Minor League for two decades, said that he can't recall ever having a prospect with a Major League contract and that he's split on how it could help a team.
"I'd have to go back and look, but I think that's been a recent phenomenon," he said. "I think you rely on your scouting department to give you an honest evaluation of where you think that guy's going to be at within a particular timeframe, because you're dealing with a clock. Your scouting department has got to be reliable."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.