The Baltimore Orioles began building their 2002 roster yesterday by ensuring the return of two of their most reliable players from the season just past.
First baseman Jeff Conine and reliever Buddy Groom had options on their contracts picked up for next season, moves that had been anticipated for some time.
“From all indications I had heard from everyone involved, it was a pretty strong feeling that they were going to pick it up,” Conine said.
Expected to be a utility player when spring training opened last February, Conine played 139 games and led the club with a .311 batting average and 97 RBI, earning him team MVP honors. Far and away the most productive member of a Baltimore lineup that had the lowest batting average in the American League last season, Conine finished 10th in the league in batting and stole a career-high 12 bases while shuffling among first base, left field, right field, third base and DH.
The 35-year-old veteran will make $3.5million next season after originally signing a two-year deal worth $5.75 million in December 1999.
“It’s my fourth year here, and I still feel that Camden Yards is the best place to play a ballgame,” Conine said. “With the support we’ve gotten from our fans despite fourth-place finishes the last few years, I really want to be a part of this thing when it turns around.”
Groom, 36, made a team-high 70 relief appearances last season, posting a 3.55 ERA and a career-high 11 saves. The left-hander, who signed a two-year, $3.75 million contract before the 2000 season, will earn $2.5 million in 2002.
“I had anticipated that it was going to happen, but until it does, you never know,” said Groom, one of only two pitchers to appear in 70 games for six straight seasons. “I was happy with the team, playing for [manager Mike] Hargrove and with the direction we’re headed.”
Groom, a 10-year veteran pitching for his fourth major league club, said he hopes to negotiate a two-year extension with the Orioles.
With the signings, Baltimore has only three players on its 40-man roster eligible for free agency: pitchers Jose Mercedes and Alan Mills and outfielder Tim Raines Sr. The team is not expected to re-sign Mercedes or Mills. The 42-year-old Raines, acquired during the final week of the season so he could play alongside his son Tim Jr., said at the time he would like to try to come back in 2002.