BALTIMORE -- The Orioles announced Monday that they have signed free-agent right-hander Koji Uehara to a one-year contract, with a vesting option for the 2012 season.
"We always wanted to bring him back," president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said of Uehara on Thursday morning at the Winter Meetings. "It was really a function of just structuring the contract in a way that protected Koji if he was healthy, but protecting us in the event that he wasn't healthy and had a recurrence of the first two years."
The deal has a base salary of $3 million that can escalate up to $5 million if he stays healthy and performs well. There is also believed to be added incentives if he is the team's closer.
"That's up to [manager Buck Showalter], it really is, on how they use him," MacPhail said when asked if Uehara will be used as the closer. "And it's also a function of what else we are able to do."
While it was rumored that there were six teams with interest in Uehara, the Orioles were always optimistic that they would be able to retain the effective, but injury prone, reliever. The 35-year-old became the first Japanese-born player in franchise history when Baltimore signed him as a starter in January 2009, but an elbow issue caused him to be shut down before the season ended.
Given Uehara's injury history, the organization felt that he would be more effective in a relief role, and the right-hander made the switch during Spring Training last year. But Uehara started the season on the disabled list with a hamstring issue and didn't pitch until May. He appeared in just six games before hitting the DL again with elbow issues similar to what he experienced in 2009.
When healthy, Uehara flourished, pitching to a 2.83 ERA over 44 innings. Despite his lengthy absence, Uehara collected a team-leading 13 saves and posted an impressive 0.95 WHIP.
His performance earned him Type B free-agent status, and in an unpopular move, the club declined to offer the 35-year-old arbitration. Still, MacPhail never wavered in his belief that the Orioles would be able to bring Uehara back.
"Honestly, I thought it only made sense [to decline arbitration]," MacPhail said. "I didn't associate that large a risk with it, to be honest with you."
The Orioles are expected to further add to their bullpen in the coming days, with MacPhail hinting on Thursday that there are some moves "in the offing." Signing Uehara, to go along with Jim Johnson and Michael Gonzalez, helps bring some stability -- although durability is an issue -- to the back end of Baltimore's bullpen.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.