Orioles set up bullpen, sign versatile DeJean

Succeeding Ligtenberg, ex-Brewer can close, too

Baseball

December 31, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Needing a right-handed setup man with closer's experience for their bullpen, the Orioles reached agreement yesterday with reliever Mike DeJean on a one-year contract with an option for 2005.

DeJean, 33, went 5-8 with 19 saves and a 4.68 ERA in 76 games between the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals this year. He's 24-24 with 52 saves and a 4.26 ERA in seven major league seasons.

The deal is contingent on DeJean passing a physical early next week. He would become the third free agent signed by the Orioles this month, joining shortstop Miguel Tejada and catcher Javy Lopez.

"Maybe a week and a half or two weeks ago, I guess things started heating up, and Baltimore kind of stepped up," said DeJean, whose wife is from Lexington Park, Md. "These guys were the ones who were coming hot and heavy, and that's where your attention goes, on the other person who wants you the most. Everything just fell into place, so here we are."

The Orioles were searching for a reliever who could replace Kerry Ligtenberg, last year's right-handed setup man. Ligtenberg signed a two-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays after the Orioles declined his option.

DeJean, who went 27-for-30 in save opportunities with the Brewers in 2002, also can take some of the closer's work from Jorge Julio. He's regarded in the organization as an upgrade over Ligtenberg, who was 4-2 with a 3.34 ERA and one save in 68 appearances last season and never seemed comfortable after leaving the Atlanta Braves.

"We feel like Mike can more than handle the eighth inning, the ninth, the seventh, wherever the need be," said Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan. "Hopefully we're in a situation where Jorge has a week straight of save opportunities. We have someone now who is very capable of popping in and not missing a beat, and he can take it for the next week."

Said DeJean: "They have their closer right now. He's done nothing to warrant being in jeopardy of losing his job. I'm there to do what the Orioles ask me to do."

Flanagan and executive vice president Jim Beattie received input on DeJean from Milwaukee bench coach Rich Dauer, a former Oriole and a finalist for the managing job that went to Lee Mazzilli. "The reviews were glowing," Flanagan said.

DeJean, who's considered a positive influence in the clubhouse, moved to the top of the Orioles' short list of candidates. They like his ability to pitch multiple innings and keep the ball on the ground with a split-fingered fastball. They also wanted someone who wasn't regarded strictly as a matchup specialist.

"It's a problem if you have a bullpen that the lefties just face lefties and the righties just face righties. There's going to be some weak link in that run, and it's something that we're trying to get away from," Flanagan said. "With Mike, it doesn't matter who's at the plate. If his role is the eighth-inning setup or if it's closing, that's where he's going to be.

"We see Mike as a jack of all trades. His versatility was one of the huge factors with us, and he was certainly the targeted guy for us in that late-inning role. Hopefully, he's as excited as we are."

The New York Yankees selected DeJean, who made $1.7 million last season, in the 24th round of the 1992 draft. The Louisiana native was traded to the Colorado Rockies in November 1995 for catcher Joe Girardi. The Brewers obtained him on April 4, 2001, in a six-player deal.

DeJean began last season as their closer and had 18 saves in 58 games before they traded him to St. Louis on Aug. 22. He made 18 outings with the Cardinals and raised his season total to a career-high 76. He topped 80 innings for only the second time.

The Orioles' bullpen also includes left-handers Buddy Groom, B.J. Ryan and John Parrish, and right-hander Rick Bauer, who might compete for a spot in the rotation during spring training.

"I don't think we have ended our search for upgrading the ballclub wherever we can do it," Flanagan said. "We're in a terrific position and we'll certainly look at other avenues. But I think we're getting a huge piece of our puzzle solved with adding Mike DeJean."

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