The Orioles tapped into their pipeline to the Seattle Mariners' maligned bullpen again yesterday, agreeing to terms with right-hander Heathcliff Slocumb on a one-year contract.
Slocumb, 32, will be used primarily to set up closer Mike Timlin, who spent parts of two seasons with the Mariners before signing a four-year deal with the Orioles in November. He also could inherit some save situations, as the club continues to give its relief corps a drastic makeover.
The contract calls for a base salary of $1.1 million, plus performance bonuses that could add another $350,000 to the deal. Slocumb would get the full amount if he appears in 60 games, a total he has reached in three of the last four seasons. He missed by three games last year.
Slocumb earned $3 million last year, a price that tempered general manager Frank Wren's interest in the pitcher. Wren went into full pursuit only after learning that Slocumb would be more affordable.
"I've liked him all along," Wren said. "I think he gives us a real strong addition, a quality arm that can fit very well in the setup role from the right side."
The Orioles have signed eight new free agents since concluding a disappointing season, including two other right-handers, Xavier Hernandez and Ricky Bones. Hernandez also can work in a setup role, and Bones can help in long relief and as a spot starter.
Slocumb will attempt to revive a career that looked so promising when he averaged 30 saves a season from 1995 through 1997, including a career-high 32 for the Philadelphia Phillies four years ago.
Traded to Seattle during the '97 season, Slocumb frequently lost the trust of manager Lou Piniella and had the closer's job yanked from him.
Last season, he went 2-5 with three saves in four opportunities and a 5.32 ERA. But his ERA was 2.65 over his last 31 appearances, and he limited opposing batters to a .212 average after the All-Star break.
"He had 30 saves a year for a number of years," Wren said. "He went to Seattle and that wasn't a real good situation for him, but I think this is a real good role for him. I feel very happy to have him."
This will be Slocumb's sixth team in nine seasons, and his third since opening 1997 with the Boston Red Sox. Whatever his address, he always has done a good job of keeping the ball in the park, allowing an average of only three homers per season (24 in 433 career appearances).
Slocumb is the third reliever to join the Orioles from Seattle since the beginning of last season. Veteran left-hander Norm Charlton, also a recurring headache for Piniella, was cut loose by the Orioles on July 28 when Jimmy Key came off the disabled list.
Despite all the moves, the Orioles' bullpen may still be a work in progress.
"We'd like to get as much depth there as we can," Wren said. "If there's another quality arm out there, that wouldn't preclude us from going after him. It's one of those things where there's strength in numbers, and have as many quality arms as you can going into camp and see what we have. So, if there's somebody else out there, we'll go after him."
Wren seems resigned to not bringing in another starting pitcher, at least until after the club convenes in Florida next month.
"I really don't think there's much left out there for us to talk about," he said. "I'm still looking, but I think it's going to come down to spring training to see if anybody has any excesses or any clubs are trying to unload anyone."
A busy off-season has included the free-agent signings of outfielder Albert Belle, second baseman Delino DeShields, first baseman Will Clark and utility player Rich Amaral, who had spent his entire career with the Mariners.
The Orioles also traded for Gold Glove catcher Charles Johnson, who yesterday filed for salary arbitration. The Orioles will have up to two years to decide whether to sign Johnson, a fifth-year player who still is under reserve, to a long-term deal.
Johnson was among 71 players eligible to file. Players and owners will exchange arbitration figures Tuesday, with hearings scheduled from Feb. 1-21.
Heathcliff Slocumb file
Born: June 7, 1966, in Jamaica, N.Y.
Height/weight: 6-3, 220
High school: John Browne (Flushing, N.Y.)
Major-league service: Six years, 162 days
Highlights: The right-hander appeared in 57 games last year for the Mariners, who were second in the American League with 23 blown saves. But the 32-year-old was effective after the All-Star break, limiting opponents to a .212 batting average. In 1997, he finished third consecutive season with at least 25 saves. Traded to Boston in January 1996, and had a career-high scoreless streak of 13 1/3 innings. His 32 saves in 1995 was third-highest single-season mark in Phillies history. Spent most of 1991 season with Cubs, becoming first Chicago rookie RHP to make at least 50 appearances since 1976 (Bruce Sutter, 52).
Pub Date: 1/16/99