For Orioles, Opening Move Is Signing Closer Timlin
November 13, 1998 | Richard Justice
The Baltimore Orioles made their first significant move of what promises to be a busy offseason by signing free agent reliever Mike Timlin to a four-year, $16 million contract. His arrival means the Orioles have a proven closer for the first time since allowing Randy Myers to depart via free agency a year ago.
Timlin, 32, is the first important acquisition for new Orioles general manager Frank Wren, but he’s not likely to be the last. Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos on Wednesday discussed a significant make-over of the team, with the acquisition of a starting pitcher, center fielder, second baseman and catcher at the top of the list.
Timlin was the day’s most significant development. The Orioles had made acquiring a new closer a top priority after a season in which youngster Armando Benitez and five other relievers collected saves. “We think he has a chance to be a real dominant closer,” Wren said of Timlin. “He was one of the best in the American League in the second half. Our scouts raved about the way he threw. They felt he really had arrived on the scene. We weren’t the only club that felt that way.”
Benitez had the closer’s role for most of the season. Although his 22 saves are three more than Timlin had for the Seattle Mariners, Benitez never gained the complete confidence of Miller after hitting Tino Martinez with a pitch that started a brawl at Yankee Stadium. Benitez blew four save chances in all, but it was his lack of consistency and maturity that bothered the Orioles. Team officials have discussed a trade that would send Benitez to the New York Mets for catcher Todd Hundley, but they’re holding off on the deal because of concerns about Hundley’s health.
Although Timlin blew five saves, he was tremendous in the second half of the season, converting 18 of 19 chances. He appeared in 70 games and had an ERA of 2.95. Scouts say he has a first-rate arm, and his best pitch is a hard sinker that should make him more effective on the grass of Camden Yards. “I like Baltimore, I know Baltimore can win,” Timlin said. “I asked Alan Mills about the organization and how things are done. He said nothing but positive things. He said it was a great organization and they take care of you.”
Timlin began his big league career by spending 6 ½ seasons with Toronto. His best season was 1996 when he saved 31 games, though he blew seven chances. He was traded to Seattle in 1997 but wasn’t give the closer’s job until this season. Timlin made just over $3 million last season, and the Mariners offered him $12 million over three years. However, they declined to give him a fourth season and all but gave up on signing Timlin yesterday morning when they completed negotiations with Jose Mesa. They informed Timlin that they were reducing their offer, thereby forcing his hand. He had two four-year offers, one from the Orioles and the other from the New York Yankees, who wanted him to be a setup man and occasionally share the closer’s job with Mariano Rivera.
Timlin chose the Orioles after Wren and agent David Sloane agreed on a deal that includes a $1 million signing bonus and base salaries of $2 million in 1999, $4 million in 2000, $4 million in 2001 and $5 million in 2002.