- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

The likelihood of the Baltimore Orioles bolstering their bullpen via the free agent market is quickly diminishing.
Jason Isringhausen, the top available closer and highly coveted by the Orioles, reportedly is on the verge of signing with the St. Louis Cardinals. Isringhausen, who converted 67 saves over the last two seasons with the Oakland Athletics, has agreed to a four-year, $27million contract with the Cardinals, according to ESPN, citing his desire both to pitch for a contender and remain close to his home in Illinois.
Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift had courted the 29-year-old right-hander earlier this week but never made a formal offer.
Baltimore is now left with precious few options when it comes to free agent closers. Steve Karsay signed yesterday with the New York Yankees, where he will set up Mariano Rivera. John Smoltz re-signed with the Atlanta Braves last week.
That leaves Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Jeff Shaw as the lone established closer on the market, though the 36-year-old reportedly is close to signing with the Cincinnati Reds.
Barring a last-minute turn of events, it appears the Orioles will enter spring training with 26-year-old Willis Roberts as the front-runner to retain the closer's title he has briefly held. After spending four months in the starting rotation, the rookie right-hander moved to the bullpen in August and picked up six saves in limited action.
Thrift did note Thursday how hesitant he is to employ a young pitcher in the pressure-filled role, though he doesn't appear to have many other choices. The team considers fellow right-handers Kris Foster and Jorge Julio potential closers someday, but each has less major league experience than Roberts. Veteran left-hander Buddy Groom, who led the club with 11 saves last season, is considered more valuable as a set-up man.
One intriguing alternative is 25-year-old Sidney Ponson, who has spent the last four seasons in the rotation but has yet to become an established starter.
"Could he be a closer? We believe he could," Thrift said. "I never dismiss possibilities."
Ponson went a disappointing 5-10 last season.
Note
The Orioles designated right-handed reliever John Wasdin for assignment to make room on their 40-man roster for outfielder Marty Cordova, who signed as a free agent Tuesday. Wasdin went 1-1 with a 4.17 ERA in 26 appearances with Baltimore last year.

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