Orioles ink Walker to three-year deal

Orioles ink Walker to three-year deal

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles confirmed a long-standing rumor Tuesday when they announced that they had signed left-handed reliever Jamie Walker to a three-year contract worth $12 million. Walker, formerly of the Tigers, completed a physical Monday that was the last standing obstacle in the way of announcing the deal.

The southpaw, who spent the last five seasons with Detroit, said the length of the deal was the deciding factor.

"It's always a tough decision once you've been somewhere for so long," he said about leaving the Tigers. "The Tigers weren't able to make a three-year commitment, and that's what we started with in April of last year. ... They never really offered me a three-year deal, and Baltimore came out aggressive from the get-go."

Walker was a 30-year-old journeyman when he caught on with Detroit in 2001, but he's parlayed five solid seasons into a big payday. The 35-year-old will reportedly earn $3 million in 2007 and $4.5 million in each of the next two years, and the average value of the deal is more than triple the largest salary ($1.25 million) he's ever earned.

Still, he said the money won't bring any added pressure -- either internal or external. Walker's ERAs in Detroit ranged from 2.81 last season to 3.71 in his first year with the Tigers, and he's hoping to providing more of the same.

"It [isn't] going to change my life. I'm a very simple person," he said. "The money's great. I'll get to take care of more people now. ... Baseball's been good to me, but I play the game because I love it."

Walker will attempt to fill a huge gap for Baltimore. The Orioles had the second-worst bullpen ERA (5.27) in the Major Leagues last season, and they shuffled between southpaw specialists all year. Veteran reliever John Halama got a shot at filling that role, and so did deposed starter Bruce Chen and rookies Kurt Birkins and Brian Burres.

Walker has been extremely effective as a specialist in recent seasons, and he hasn't notched an ERA over the league average since 1998. Last year, he only worked in 12 games where he recorded more than three outs, but he doesn't see himself as that kind of reliever. Not only is he capable of going a full inning, he'd prefer it, if possible.

"I don't look at myself as a specialist. There's times during the course of the year where I'll only face one or two guys, but I like to start an inning and finish it," said Walker, who's held left-handed hitters to a .229 average over his career. "But I'll do whatever it takes. If they want me to run through a wall, I'll run through a brick wall or die trying.

"Whatever [Baltimore manager] Sam [Perlozzo] asks, I'll be ready to rock and roll."

Walker also got to see Detroit transform itself from a 119-loss team two seasons ago to the American League champions in 2006. He said that all the losing piled up over time, but he was proud of the way the team turned itself around. And despite that, he had no regrets about leaving his former teammates for greener pastures.

"I was there five years and I signed year-to-year deals. They had chances to make a commitment," he said. "I'm 35 [years old] with three kids [and] I'm tired of moving around. I was interested in a three-year deal, and Baltimore came at me. ... I'm glad to be a Baltimore Oriole."

The veteran pitched five times in this year's playoffs and gave up two home runs. He also allowed eight homers in just 48 innings last year, which may be a cause for concern. Three of those shots came in one late-season game against Kansas City, a September outing that moved his ERA up significantly (from 2.17 to 2.83).

Walker said he's looking forward to working with pitching coach Leo Mazzone and serving as a mentor to the team's young arms. Last year, veteran right-hander LaTroy Hawkins filled that role for a rookie-laden bullpen.

"I think we'll both help each other," he said of Mazzone. "Leo Mazzone is a no-nonsense guy, and I'm pretty much a no-nonsense guy. He preaches strike one, and the more strikes you throw, the better you're going to be. ... I think he's going to help me in all aspects."

Baltimore isn't done with the relief market and is expected to sign as many as three more relievers from outside the organization. The team also signed veteran John Parrish to a contract early in the week. Parrish, who missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, signed a one-year deal worth $575,000.

Parrish will likely compete with youngsters Birkins and Burres to give the Orioles a second reliable lefty. That presence would allow Walker to be used later in the game for key matchups against tough lefty batters.

"We have targeted the bullpen as an area that we want to improve and we certainly believe we've begun that process with the addition of Jamie Walker," executive vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan said in a prepared statement. "He is a durable lefty with postseason experience who throws strikes and who can be used in different situations, depending on the game situation on a given day."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.