Gonzalez finalizes $12M, 2-year deal with Orioles

BY foxsports • December 21, 2009

Mike Gonzalez wants to close games, and the Baltimore Orioles lack an experienced arm to protect ninth-inning leads.

Though they aren't handing the veteran left-hander with the herky jerky delivery the closer's job outright, the Orioles are likely to give him a chance after finalizing a $12 million, two-year contract on Friday.

``It's not something that is guaranteed to him,'' Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. ``There will be a competition.''

Gonzalez will report to spring training in Sarasota, Fla., in February, ready to pitch alongside right-handers Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara. Baltimore has been without a dependable closer since trading George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 30.

``I would say he is at the top of the list. I think that's why we got him,'' Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.

The 31-year-old Gonzalez went 5-4 with 10 saves and a 2.42 ERA with the Atlanta Braves last season.

He will receive $6 million base salaries in each of the next two years. If he's the team leader in Rolaids Relief Man Award points next year, he would get an additional $1 million bonus and his 2011 salary would increase to $7 million. He would receive a $500,000 bonus each year if he's among the top 20 in the major leagues in Rolaids points.

Gonzalez's goal is to close for the Orioles.

``I feel really comfortable in that position,'' he said during a news conference at Camden Yards.

Gonzalez is 14-16 with 54 saves and a 2.57 ERA in 302 major league games over seven seasons. He had a career high 24 saves for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2006 and has held opponents to a .209 average, striking out 330 in 280 2-3 innings.

Gonzalez said he is fully recovered from elbow ligament replacement surgery in May 2007. He is eager to pitch in the AL East.

``The switching of leagues, to me, I'm not thinking it's going to be a difference,'' he said. ``The thing that I'm excited about is the division we're going to be playing in. Obviously, everyone knows that this is the toughest division in baseball. To be able to face those lineups, I take it as a challenge.''

Baltimore also has an agreement pending on a one-year contract that will guarantee third baseman Garrett Atkins $4.5 million, a deal still subject to a physical. Atkins slumped to a .226 average with nine homers and 48 RBIs for Colorado last season after hitting .286 with 21 homers and 99 RBIs in 2008.

During last week's winter meetings in Indianapolis, the Orioles acquired right-hander Kevin Millwood from Texas. That helped Gonzalez to decide on signing with Baltimore.

``Sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the other teams - the Yankees, the Red Sox - but this is a very good ballclub,'' Gonzalez said. ``These guys are only going to get better. When they went out and got Millwood, it made it a little easier for me.''

MacPhail acknowledged that he continues to look for ways to improve his club, but dismissed speculation that the Orioles might acquire San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez or sign free agent outfielder Matt Holliday.

``It would come as a surprise to me,'' MacPhail said.

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