Orioles Decline Option On Benson's Contract

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007

The Baltimore Orioles yesterday declined the 2008 option on the contract of injured pitcher Kris Benson, effectively severing ties with the veteran right-hander and closing the books on one of the signature mistakes of the Orioles' previous front-office regime.

Benson, who will turn 33 next week, would have made $7.5 million next season had the Orioles exercised the option. Instead, as expected, the team exercised a $500,000 buyout, leaving Benson to join a free agent class lacking in impact pitchers.

Benson had surgery in March to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder -- a procedure that often requires more than a year of rehabilitation -- and missed the entire season. The Orioles' medical staff felt there was enough risk about Benson's future to warrant declining the option.

"Based on where we are now, we felt it was in both parties' interests to explore free agency," said Andy MacPhail, who took over as the Orioles' president of baseball operations in June. He added: "We have a lot of work to do. Pitching is going to be a priority for us."

Benson made only 30 starts in his two seasons with the Orioles, all of them coming in 2006, when he went 11-12 with a 4.82 ERA. In seven big league seasons he is 68-73 with a 4.34 ERA.

Benson reported to spring training this year complaining of shoulder soreness, then resisted the team's directive to begin a rehabilitation program, saying he preferred to have surgery. After relenting and rehabbing the shoulder unsuccessfully for much of the spring, he ultimately had the surgery. Later, he revealed the shoulder had been bothering him for nearly four years.

The Orioles, under then-vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette, gave up pitching prospect John Maine and reliever Jorge Julio to acquire Benson from the New York Mets in January 2006, envisioning him as a top-of-the-rotation starter and veteran complement to their collection of younger starters.

However, since the trade, Maine has given the Mets nearly twice as many wins -- 21 -- as the Orioles have gotten from Benson, and this year Maine, 26, blossomed into a 15-game winner who ranked sixth in the National League with 180 strikeouts.

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