The Baltimore Orioles continued overhauling their bullpen yesterday by signing free agent left-hander Buddy Groom to a two-year, $4 million contract. Groom, 34, will be used almost exclusively against left-handed hitters in late-inning matchups, which is the role he had in Oakland last season when he tied for the American League lead with 76 appearances.

Groom will make $1.75 million next season and $2 million in 2001. The Orioles have a $2.5 million option for 2002 with a $250,000 buyout.

Meantime, the Orioles got the expected news that free agent Arthur Rhodes, 30, had signed a four-year, $13 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.

"It's hard to leave the Orioles, but they didn't want to give me what I wanted," Rhodes said. "I wanted a four-year deal, but they didn't want to do that. I'm not going to worry about Baltimore."

He took a subtle jab at the way he was used by former manager Ray Miller, saying: "You get me up once or twice [to warm up in a game], I'm fine. You get me up three times, I'm worn out."

Mariners General Manager Pat Gillick, who was general manager of the Orioles from 1996 until 1998, agreed that Rhodes had been mishandled. "He was 19-4 the first two years I was in Baltimore," Gillick said. "The last two years haven't been as good [7-8]. I don't think he's using it as an excuse, but he's one of these guys that if you warm him up, you bring him in the game. He's not a guy you get up and down. Their pitching has been in disarray in Baltimore, and that contributed to him not having the same type of season. Our reports are he's throwing as well as ever. I know this guy and have a lot of confidence in him."

This month the Orioles traded left-hander Jesse Orosco to the New York Mets for left-hander Chuck McElroy. With the departures of Rhodes and Orosco, the Orioles will have a new look in the bullpen, including three left-handers: Groom, McElroy and B.J. Ryan, who was acquired last summer from the Cincinnati Reds. With the signing of right-hander Mike Trombley and the return of right-handers Al Reyes and Mike Timlin, the Orioles hope to improve a bullpen that was one of the worst in baseball last season. Baltimore relievers were 17-27 with a 4.91 earned run average. That was the lowest victory total among American League bullpens, and the third-worst ERA.

"I feel good about our bullpen," said Syd Thrift, the Orioles' director of player personnel. "I think we've got three dependable right-handers and three dependable left-handers."

Groom was 3-2 with a 5.09 ERA last season with the A's. He was used almost exclusively against left-handed hitters, pitching only 46 innings and facing more than one batter just 28 times. It was the fourth straight season he has appeared in at least 70 games. In eight major league seasons, he is 15-18 with a 5.14 ERA in 409 games.

Last season, Groom compiled a 2.81 ERA after July 3. He is one of seven major league pitchers to appear in 70 games in a season.

To make room for Groom and catcher Greg Myers, who was signed last week, the Orioles removed left-hander Doug Johns and outfielder Wady Almonte from their roster, making both free agents. Johns went 6-4 with a 4.47 ERA in 32 games for the Orioles last season. Almonte batted .293 at Class AA Bowie.

However, Thrift said Johns could return as a spring training invitee if he doesn't find a better offer on the market.

"I like Buddy Groom," Thrift said. "He's a situational pitcher, and that's the style Mike Hargrove manages. When we were looking at all the available left-handers, he's the one we were the most interested in."