The Orioles ended weeks of negotiating last night by agreeing to terms with left-handed reliever Jesse Orosco, considered one of the top setup men in the American League.
Orosco, who turns 40 in April, has been an unsung hero since being signed by the Orioles in 1995. He went 2-4 with a 3.26 ERA in his first season in Baltimore and, if not for a terrible pair of outings in April, his 1996 ERA would have been 1.52.
Orosco agreed to a one-year deal for $800,000 in base salary and $300,000 in incentives with an option for 1998 that automatically kicks in if he makes 55 appearances in 1997, according to his agent Alan Meersand. Club offi- Orosco cials confirmed the deal last night without comment and Orosco could not be reached.
If Orosco does not meet the 55 appearances mark -- a plateau he has easily cleared with 65 and 66 appearances the past two seasons -- the Orioles still could choose to exercise their option for 1998. If the Orioles decide not to pick up that option, they can buy out Orosco for $50,000. Meersand said he'll speak with the Orioles today about the possibility of an additional option for 1999.
Orosco's incentives are for $60,000 each at 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 appearances, Meersand said.
The sides were initially talking about a deal with a base salary of $675,000 a few weeks ago, but the market changed after left-handed reliever Mark Guthrie signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $1.1 million a year, Meersand said.
Orosco had said at the end of the season he would like to return to the Orioles, but then the situation changed when a collective bargaining agreement appeared about to be ratified. The proposed agreement, which later was rejected by the owners, would have made Orosco a free agent and the California native expressed interest in signing with his hometown San Diego Padres.
As it turned out, the Orioles offered him salary arbitration last Friday in hopes of signing him before the hearing date in February.
"I would say Jesse isn't so much happy as he is relieved," Meersand said last night. "It could have been done dozens of conversations ago. It should have been done, but they waited to make their move. For some reason, they didn't want to step up and do what's right until [last night]."
In other club moves, the Orioles set their 40-man roster yesterday, dropping major-leaguers Mark Smith and Mike Milchin and a Triple-A pitcher, and adding four major-leaguers.
The Orioles' roster now stands at 34 players, which leaves the team room to be active in the free-agent market or to potentially sign a few minor-leaguers in the Rule 5 draft in December.
Smith, 26, was the most notable player demoted yesterday. He and Aaron Lane were outrighted to Triple-A Rochester, though Smith is likely to be invited to major-league camp in the spring. Smith cleared outright waivers and could be claimed by another team in the Rule 5 draft.
"We just felt like we needed the roster spot," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said.
Smith was clearly surprised by the Orioles' decision when contacted at his California home, but declined to comment.
He hit .244 in 27 games with the Orioles and seemed to have a shot at winning the starting left-field job when Jeffrey Hammonds was sent to Rochester. But Smith, the ninth overall pick in the 1991 draft, suffered a bone bruise by fouling a ball off his shin on July 23, and did not play for the Orioles again. Many people in the organization were unhappy with the length of Smith's recovery time.
Smith has spent parts of three seasons at Rochester and was named an International League all-star after the 1995 season. Last year he hit .348 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 39 games with the Red Wings.
Milchin went 1-0 with a 5.73 ERA with the Orioles after being claimed off waivers in August and was left off the team's playoff roster. The left-handed reliever was released yesterday, but Malone said the Orioles already have talked to Milchin's agent about signing the pitcher to a Triple-A contract and inviting him to major-league camp.
The Orioles added two pitchers and two outfielders to the roster.
Right-hander Julio Moreno, 21, was 9-10 with a 3.50 ERA for Single-A Frederick. Francisco Saneaux, 22, was 4-5 with a 5.56 ERA for Single-A High Desert, but Malone said the organization is impressed with his velocity and hopes he'll become a more consistent pitcher. Malone said both pitchers would have been eligible for the Rule 5 draft had they not been added to the roster.
"We feel like the strength of our organization is young pitching," Malone said. "Moreno's got a chance to be a quality major-league starter. They're both still a couple of years away."
Wady Almonte, 21, a top prospect who hit .286 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs in 85 games at Frederick, and Danny Clyburn, a 22-year-old who was acquired from Cincinnati in 1995, also were added to the roster.
Pub Date: 11/20/96