Despite officially announcing today the signing of free agent reliever Mike Trombley, who saved 24 games in 30 chances for Minnesota in 1999, the Baltimore Orioles intend for Mike Timlin to remain their closer, at least heading into spring training.

"We have to go in with Timlin as the incumbent," said Orioles Manager Mike Hargrove, who was kept informed of the Trombley signing while on vacation the last two weeks. "We have two people capable of pitching in the ninth inning with the game on the line. It makes us stronger. I'll go into camp with an open mind."

"We felt [Trombley] was a perfect match for Mike Timlin because they can offset each other," said Orioles director of player personnel Syd Thrift. "They can flip-flop. It's entirely up to the manager."

Meanwhile, the Orioles continue attempts to re-sign left-hander Arthur Rhodes, but may have fallen behind the Yankees, Indians, Red Sox and Mariners.

Rhodes's agent, Dan Horwits, is negotiating solely with majority owner Peter Angelos, and Rhodes has said he would re-sign with the Orioles as long as their offer was in the neighborhood of the others. However, Horwits said the Orioles' offers have not kept pace with the others, and that Rhodes currently is weighing the offers on the table.

The Orioles also have talked about Mike Jackson, who was Hargrove's primary closer in Cleveland the last 2 1/2 seasons. But Jackson has not come down from his demand for a three-year deal for about $24 million.

Trombley, a 32-year-old right-hander, signed a three-year contract worth a guaranteed $7.75 million, with a club option for a fourth year at another $3 million. Baseball sources said Trombley turned down a more lucrative offer from Seattle to come to the Orioles. Trombley, a ground-ball pitcher with an effective split-finger fastball, became the Twins' closer last season when the team dealt Rick Aguilera to the Cubs. But he is prepared to serve as a set-up man, which is the role he had for much of his career.

"I'm looking at it as a set-up situation," said Trombley. "I'll pitch whenever they wanted me to."