Reboulet pops up as a winning link

On O's last playoff team in '97, utility infielder eyes second tenure on roster

Baseball

February 22, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - What a surreal scene it was earlier this week as Jeff Reboulet and B.J. Surhoff, equipment bags in hand, trudged through the parking lot on their way to the Orioles' spring training clubhouse. Two links to the recent past, when losing seasons weren't the norm, attaching themselves to a rusted chain.

Surhoff's arrival played out for two weeks, with his workouts at Camden Yards and ongoing negotiations made public, but Reboulet seemed to appear out of nowhere. Never one to get much notice - utility infielders tend to keep a lower profile - maybe this was appropriate for him.

The first segment of Reboulet's career with the Orioles began in 1997, the last year they made the playoffs before five consecutive fourth-place finishes. They went wire-to-wire that season in the American League East, and Reboulet was thrust into a winning environment that no longer existed in Minnesota when he left as a free agent.

After 1999, and the end of Ray Miller's disastrous tenure as manager, Reboulet was traded to the Kansas City Royals for infielder Ray Brown. The Orioles had as little interest in keeping Brown as they did Reboulet, and he was released almost immediately.

So how did Reboulet wind up with the Orioles again, his signature on a minor-league contract and his sites on a utility job with his 39th birthday only two months away?

"We're thin in middle infielders and we wanted to add some depth to that position," said Mike Flanagan, executive vice president of baseball operations. "He was available, he has a nice track record here and there was a need."

Enough of one that the Orioles also signed John Valentin on the same day. While Reboulet mostly backs up at second base and shortstop, Valentin can play third and first. Reboulet's calling card is his glove; Valentin's is made of wood.

"I don't think their qualities are similar," Flanagan said.

Their simultaneous arrivals seemed to indicate that only one player would head north for Opening Day, but Flanagan said it's possible that both of them could make the roster. The odds increase if manager Mike Hargrove keeps 11 pitchers and an extra position player, and if he decides Brian Roberts needs to start every day at Triple-A Ottawa.

The perceived battle between Reboulet and Valentin might end with dual winners.

"I don't know if it's an either/or situation," Flanagan said. "There's different criteria for both of them."

"Everybody in baseball is your competition," Reboulet said, "and everybody in baseball is looking at you on a daily basis. You might not be here. You might end up someplace else. So if somebody I'm playing against doesn't do well, that doesn't affect how I do. I've got competition all around the league."

The Orioles passed along their interest in Reboulet to his agent, Rick Thurman, during the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Other teams inquired about him, but none forced the issue by guaranteeing a contract.

"We tried to pick the best spot available," said Reboulet, a career .240 hitter who spent the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I think the opportunity here is pretty good. And I know my wife was all for me coming back to Baltimore.

"I think the Orioles were looking over their situation and decided, `OK, let's bring Reb back.' I like it here. It's a great place to play. We've got a lot of young guys. I've been on teams that found me valuable for that. You bring whatever you've got to the table, and if you've got more things going for you, I guess that's probably a plus for you.

"They know what kind of guy I am. I'm not a rock-the-boat or demand-playing-time guy. I'm just a guy who plays and does what he's told to do."

Though ready to walk away from the game if no offers came, Reboulet said he's got a lot of baseball left in him.

"I know I can still play," he said. "I don't question that right now, so that's not a reason for me to leave. I want to play."

He won't do it with shortstop Mike Bordick. They were almost inseparable while teammates with the Orioles and remain in close contact - they last spoke on Wednesday - but Bordick signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent.

Reboulet never could fill those shoes, but he's wearing Bordick's uniform pants.

"They're the only ones that fit."

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