Mariners sign Lawton to one-year deal
Veteran gets incentive-laden contract, second chance
SEATTLE -- The Mariners are giving veteran outfielder Matt Lawton a second chance.The 34-year-old, two-time American League All-Star and one-time steroid policy violator, agreed on Thursday afternoon to a one-year, incentive-laden contract that could be worth $1.65 million. The deal comes with a $400,000 minimum salary and limited no-trade clause. Unless the Mariners trade one of their outfielders, Lawton would report to Spring Training as an extra outfielder -- behind Raul Ibanez, Jeremy Reed, Ichiro Suzuki and possibly recently-signed Carl Everett. But regardless what happens in camp, if Lawton earns a spot on the 25-man Opening Day roster, he won't be in uniform. He was suspended on Nov. 2 for violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and the 10-day suspension goes into effect at the start of the 2006 regular season. Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said there were, "A lot of reservations" when Lawton's name first came up, "But as with every player, you look into the situation very closely and we're satisfied that it was a one-time deal." In the recent issue of Sports Weekly, Lawton admitted he took the veterinary steroid boldenone on Sept. 20 to combat shoulder and ankle injuries. "There were eight games left on the schedule and I thought, 'What are the chances of something happening?' " Lawton said during a conference call on Thursday night. Something happened all right. He hit a home run to help the Yankees win a game, underwent a steroid test the following day and had just three more at-bats the remainder of the season. He was left off the Yankees' postseason roster and suspended on Nov. 2. Lawton has been in limbo ever since, trying to find a job in the Major Leagues. Bavasi said he was impressed with the way Lawton accepted the blame for his actions and expressed remorse. "Some guys have no remorse," Bavasi said. "The issue isn't just that a player does that, but their reaction to it; what they did leading up to it and how they handled it. Other players in same boat Matt's in haven't handled it same way. They either blame someone else or are obnoxious about it. "This appears to us that it was a mistake and we approach it as a mistake." Kevin Kohler, Lawton's agent for the past 10 days, said six of the eight teams Lawton wanted to play for were interested in signing him to a contract. "Matt told me he wanted to play for the Mariners and be re-united with Eddie [Guardado]," Kohler said. "All he wanted was the minimum [base salary] and a no-trade [clause]." Guradado, the Mariners closer, and Lawton were longtime Twins teammates. "Everything happens for a reason and I'm thankful for the opportunity the Mariners are giving me," Lawton said. "I explained my position, and they are very forgiving. I am looking forward to playing with a great group of guys." Lawton brings experience and veteran leadership to the clubhouse, along with a bat that has produced a .267 career batting average, 138 home runs and 630 RBIs.
His best season was in 2000 when he batted .305, hit 13 home runs and drove in 88 runs for the Twins and earned the first of his two All-Star Game invitations."Matt is a solid left-handed hitter and base stealer who will provide us with depth and flexibility," Bavasi said. "He can help us in a variety of roles, including the ability to play all three outfield positions." Lawton began the 2005 with Pittsburgh, batting .273 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 101 games. His 16 steals with the Pirates were second on the team. He was traded to the Cubs on July 31 for outfielder Jody Gerut and the Yankees acquired him on Aug. 27 in exchange for right-handed pitcher Justin Berg. Bavasi said the Lawton signing had no effect on the rumors surrounding the possible trade of center fielder Reed to the Red Sox for a starting pitcher -- either Branson Arroyo or Matt Clement. "There is a lot of interest in Reed from other clubs, including us," Bavasi said. The signing would seem to have more of an impact on Mike Morse, who ended the '05 season learning how to play left field. His best shot now could be as a spare part on the bench. "This does not signal the end for Michael," Bavasi said.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.