Juneau pitcher Chad Bentz's time as a free agent was brief.
Bentz, who was waived by the Washington Nationals - the former Montreal Expos - on Monday and cleared waivers to become a free agent on Wednesday, said he will sign a contract with the Florida Marlins as early as today. The contract is a split deal that will pay him one amount if he makes the major leagues and another if he is sent to the minors.
"As of tomorrow, I will become a Marlin," Bentz said Thursday night from his parents' home in Juneau, where he's staying for the holidays. "We've been talking, me and Lenny (Strelitz, his agent), and Florida made the best offer. ... It's like a split contract and I got a nice raise. ... We'll do some faxing tonight and tomorrow, but verbally we've said yes."
Bentz, a left-handed relief pitcher who graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1999, became the second person to play high school or American Legion baseball in Alaska to reach the majors last spring when he made the Montreal Expos' roster in spring training.
Bentz, 24, was on the major league roster until July 24, when he was sent to the minors to develop a slider to get left-handed hitters out. Bentz posted an 0-3 record with a 5.86 ERA in the majors. He finished the season on the disabled list after having surgery for a nerve problem on the sole of his right foot and a slight tear in his left shoulder. Bentz said he's healthy now, and Thursday night was headed to Floyd Dryden Gym to work out.
"That was the first thing they asked, was how my health was," said Bentz, who was born with a deformed right hand and uses his left hand to both pitch and field (he has a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in professional baseball).
Bentz said the Marlins, who won the 2003 World Series, were the first of several teams to call him after he was waived and they made the best offer. The Marlins were able to chart his progress when he was in the minors, especially when Bentz was with the Brevard County (Fla.) Manatees high-Single A club in 2002. Bentz also said he knows one of the pitching coaches with Florida, Wayne Rosenthal, who is the team's minor league pitching coordinator.
One of the things that attracted Bentz to the Marlins was their need for arms in the bullpen. The Marlins said that was one of their three main needs heading into last week's winter meetings.
"Me and Lenny were looking over their roster and they've got two spots open," Bentz said. "There's a chance I could break camp with them."
The Marlins just signed veteran lefty starter Al Leiter as a free agent, which gives the team four solid starters with Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis and A.J. Burnett. Bentz said he hopes to work with Leiter, because they have similar pitching styles. Bentz also said he's excited to work with Marlins manager Jack McKeon.
"I'm really looking forward to spring training, because they just signed Al Leiter," Bentz said. "He throws a cut fastball, and I really want to pick his brain. They've also got Willis and Beckett, and they're all nice guys and they've got great coaches."
Bentz didn't go into too many contract specifics, because the deal won't be official until he gets all the paperwork signed after it's faxed to Juneau. But he did say if he makes the majors he'll earn $320,000 for the season (a raise of $20,000 over his deal with the Expos last year). If he's sent to the minors, he'll make $12,000 a month (his first year in the minors with the Expos, he only made $820 a month).
While he was disappointed the Nationals waived him, Bentz said he enjoyed his time playing for the Expos last year, especially working with manager Frank Robinson. The team's move to Washington is in limbo as the District of Columbia Council tries to rework its deal for a new stadium with major league baseball, and Bentz said he hopes they get the move straightened out.
"It was a bummer to get the news, and I was not happy," Bentz said about his waiver on Monday. "But one door closed and another one opened. It's something new and it's exciting. I'm just going to enjoy it.
"I'm very thankful to get another chance. I was pretty sure I'd be able to sign with someone, but it's always in the back of your mind that you could be out of baseball. I'm very thankful that another organization wanted me."
Bentz, who is in town with his wife, Christie, and infant daughter, Kyla, until Monday, said he appreciated all the support he's received from Juneau residents.
"I'd like to thank everybody. This whole town was very supportive of me," Bentz said. "I got a lot of phone calls from people saying they were thinking of me this week. That's what I remember about this place, and I really appreciate it."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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