O's have agreements with Gonzalez, Atkins
Signings for lefty reliever, third baseman pending physicals
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail put a significant dent in his offseason shopping list, potentially scratching off the items "closer" and "third baseman."
A week after acquiring front-line starter Kevin Millwood, the Orioles reached agreement on a two-year deal with left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez and a one-year pact with corner infielder Garrett Atkins, a Major League source with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed to MLB.com on Thursday.
Gonzalez's contract is worth $12 million with incentives that could kick it up to $16 million, according to The Baltimore Sun, which first reported the signing on Wednesday night.
Atkins, meanwhile, will make $4 million in base salary in 2010, and the Orioles will have a club option of $8.5 million for '11, a source said. The deal includes $500,000 in incentives for next season -- $250,000 each for 550 plate appearances and 600 plate appearances -- and a $500,000 buyout for the following season.
Both signings are still pending physicals. Gonzalez told the Sun he'd be in Baltimore by Thursday night, then take his physical on Friday to make his signing official. But Atkins' agent, Jeff Blank, told MLB.com his client's deal -- already agreed upon in principle -- probably won't be finalized until early next week because of travel arrangements.
Though Spring Training performance could be the deciding factor, Gonzalez immediately looks like the leading candidate to be the O's closer in 2010.
The 31-year-old is a Type A free agent who declined arbitration by the Braves. Since the Orioles hold one of the top 15 picks in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, they would have to surrender a second-round pick to sign Gonzalez, instead of a first-round pick.
While serving as a setup man and getting some closing duties as the left-handed option to right-hander Rafael Soriano in 2009, Gonzalez went 5-4 with a 2.42 ERA and converted 10 of his 17 save chances. The Texas product struck out 90 and walked 33 in 74 1/3 innings while also notching 17 holds and putting up an inherited score percentage of 22.
Gonzalez's best season came with the Pirates in 2006, when he posted a 2.17 ERA and converted all 24 of his save opportunities. For his seven-year career, he has a 2.57 ERA and 54 saves.
"I am real excited," Gonzalez told the Sun in a phone interview. "I wish it was Spring Training tomorrow."
Atkins had a great run with the Rockies from 2006-08, but he had a down year in '09, batting just .226 with nine home runs and 48 RBIs while playing in 126 games and temporarily losing his starting job. Over the previous three seasons, the 30-year-old combined to hit .305 while averaging 25 home runs and 110 RBIs per season.
On Saturday, the Rockies decided not to tender a contract to Atkins, who was arbitration-eligible and made $7.05 million last season.
For his seven-year career -- spent entirely in Colorado -- Atkins is a .289 hitter, with 98 home runs. He has spent the majority of his time at third base but has also registered 105 games at first base.
The one-year deal makes sense for MacPhail, who has two top-shelf prospects in first baseman Brandon Snyder and third baseman Josh Bell. MacPhail has said he would prefer to give Bell and Snyder at least one more year to develop, but that's probably all they would need before being ready to assume everyday roles in the big leagues.
The Orioles went into the offseason seeking help in the starting rotation, bullpen and corner-infield spots. Though Baltimore got Millwood from the Rangers in exchange for Chris Ray on Dec. 9, there are thoughts that the club could still add another starting pitcher.
The club now also has Atkins and Ty Wigginton as experienced corner infielders, and each of them can play first or third base, thus giving the O's some flexibility in addressing their other corner-infield need.
"He was given an opportunity to play every day, and it's a change of scenery from where he was playing," Blank told MLB.com in a phone interview, adding that Atkins is willing to play either third or first base. "He's hopeful it will lead to a real big season and he'll put up the big-time numbers that he's accustomed to putting up."
While Atkins should give the corner infield a boost, the Orioles are hoping Gonzalez can be a much-needed staple to a young bullpen that really suffered after an in-season trade of George Sherrill to the Dodgers.
Orioles relievers ranked 13th in the American League with a collective 4.83 ERA -- better only than the Royals -- and the club's 22 blown saves was tied for third. Jim Johnson was used as the club's closer down the stretch, but the 26-year-old right-hander converted just 10 of his 16 save chances, and opponents hit .311 against him in the ninth inning -- compared to .228 in the eighth.
It's still not certain whether Gonzalez and his herky-jerky delivery will be the club's answer for the ninth inning. But with an average annual salary of at least $6 million, he'll be paid like a closer and should at least get a shot.
That means Johnson could revert to his role as a setup man, which he seemed more equipped for in 2009. Right-hander Koji Uehara, who had his season cut short because of elbow problems, could also be a late-inning candidate.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.