O's reward Conine, Groom for stellar seasons

2002 options picked up on team MVP, reliever


November 08, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

No two players did more to add a sense of dignity to the Orioles' fourth-place season than first baseman Jeff Conine and reliever Buddy Groom. The club officially recognized each player's significance yesterday by assuming their contract options for 2002.

Conine, 35, will earn $3.5 million next season after emerging from a projected backup role in spring training to become the Orioles' offensive leader and Most Valuable Player. Rotating among five positions but playing mostly first base because of a series of injuries to David Segui, Conine ranked 10th in the American League with a .311 batting average and drove in a team-leading 97 runs. Despite being bothered by a foot injury for much of the season, Conine set a career high with 12 stolen bases.

Groom, 36, entered last season as a left-handed middle reliever but exited with the club lead in saves, as well as the best control among American League relief pitchers. The Orioles assumed Groom's $2.5 million option after he became one of two pitchers in major-league history to make at least 70 appearances in six consecutive seasons.

Groom was 1-4 with a 3.55 ERA and amassed a career-high 11 saves. He also held a lead in 40 of 42 situations and stranded 41 of 50 inherited runners, seventh best in the American League.

Both players attracted interest before last summer's waiver deadline, but the Orioles held onto both as core players for their renovation. Conine attracted interest from the Minnesota Twins and Chicago Cubs, among others, and Groom was highly coveted by the Atlanta Braves.

Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, insisted the club would seek more players possessing Conine's talents rather than dealing away a player who inherited a cleanup hitter's role by May.

Likewise, Groom evolved into the Orioles' closer after rookie Ryan Kohlmeier was deemed too inconsistent and veteran Mike Trombley was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Kris Foster and minor-league catcher Geronimo Gil.

NOTES: The Orioles are interested in signing another power hitter, such as free-agent Houston Astros outfielder Moises Alou, while improving a pitching staff that's virtually certain to miss last April's Opening Day starter, Pat Hentgen, for the entire 2002 season. The club has mulled making free-agent overtures to Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Chan Ho Park, Braves reliever Steve Karsay, Cleveland Indians swing man Dave Burba, and Oakland Athletics closer Jason Isringhausen. ... Outfielder Chris Richard underwent surgery on his left shoulder Monday.

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