The Baltimore Orioles may have already made the most important addition to their pitching staff -- a month before free agency is scheduled to begin.
Pitching coach Leo Mazzone, widely considered the best in baseball, officially joined the Orioles on Friday after signing a three-year deal worth about $450,000 per year, according to sources. The contract makes Mazzone the second-highest paid pitching coach in baseball.
As compensation, the Orioles sent minor league pitcher Moises Hernandez, 21, to the Atlanta Braves, who allowed Mazzone to terminate his contract that was due to expire on Nov. 15.
Mazzone, who had spent the past 15 years as the Braves' pitching coach, said he made the move to be closer to family in Cumberland, Md., and to be united with best friend Sam Perlozzo, Baltimore's manager.
"The reason I'm coming to Baltimore is basically because Sam Perlozzo is the manager," said Mazzone, whose pitching staffs in Atlanta ranked either first or second in the majors in ERA in 12 of the past 14 seasons. "I know they have some good young arms, but I'll be talking more with Sam about that."
When the New York Yankees, along with the Orioles, made a bid for Mazzone, it was all but certain the pitching coach would end his tenure in Atlanta.
"He loves the Braves, but he knew he wasn't going to come back," said Todd Thrasher, one of Mazzone's representatives. "Once we found out the Orioles wanted him, there was no turning back. If the Yankees couldn't make him forget the Orioles, the Braves couldn't do it."
Mazzone said he also had seriously considered the Yankees' offer, but ultimately his friendship with Perlozzo proved too strong. Atlanta General Manager John Schuerholz thanked Mazzone and wished him luck in his new job.
"We'll miss Leo, but we have every confidence that as an organization we'll continue to produce high-quality pitchers," he said.
Though Hernandez isn't considered a top prospect, he certainly isn't a throwaway player, either. The pitcher is the older brother of Felix Hernandez, the Seattle Mariners' young ace, and is considered by many to be a legitimate future major leaguer.
"He's definitely a prospect," said one scout.