2005 option is out for Palmeiro

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

DH won't make 140 starts at first, $4.5 million

O's open to restructured deal

Notebook

September 21, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - The countdown on Rafael Palmeiro's option for 2005 ended yesterday when Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli used him as the designated hitter for the series opener against the Boston Red Sox.

Palmeiro needed to play 140 games at first base for his $4.5 million option to kick in next season, but it's no longer possible with only 14 left on the schedule.

"I'm not going to worry about it. That's out of my hands," he said. "They made the decision. I'm not in control of that. The only thing I can control is what I do on the field."

He didn't spend enough time on it to assure his return next season.

Palmeiro received treatment yesterday for a sore right hamstring, and left the game in the fifth inning for a pinch runner. But he eventually would have been kept off first base before the season ended while the Orioles evaluated other players.

"I didn't envision this happening to me," he said. "I never thought [the option] would come into play, but it has and I'll deal with it."

When Palmeiro re-signed with the Orioles last winter, he assumed that he'd be the regular first baseman through the season, and perhaps until his eventual retirement. He figured the option was included in his contract to protect the team against injury.

But as Palmeiro's slump carried into the second half, Mazzilli began using him more as the designated hitter and sitting him against left-handers, who have held him to a .190 average.

"I can't control the way they handled it," said Palmeiro, who is hitting .261 with 20 homers and 82 RBIs. "That's not why I came back. I was hoping that things would work out good so I could play here and not have to put on another uniform, but I guess I'm going to have to re-evaluate it."

Executive vice president Jim Beattie indicated yesterday that the Orioles retain interest in Palmeiro for next season under a restructured deal.

"Certainly the door is still open," he said. "We're not cutting anything off at this point. Raffy's not like everybody else. He's a special player. We'll have conversations with him and his agents and see where we all stand."

It doesn't hurt Palmeiro's bargaining position that he was batting .377 (23-for-61) with six homers and 19 RBIs in his past 17 games before going 0-for-1 with two walks last night. His 548 career homers tie Mike Schmidt for 10th place on the all-time list.

"I have to approach it as a business the way they have," he said. "Of course I would be interested in coming back, but I guess there will be options now other than this one."

Beattie and Mazzilli have noted how Palmeiro's production increased after he began spending more time on the bench. "Maybe it would have been better to rest him earlier in the season," Beattie said.

Palmeiro struggled earlier this year against exaggerated shifts, hitting the ball more to the opposite field and settling for the occasional single. But he no longer lets other teams dictate each at-bat.

"This is the way I felt that I was going to do all year," he said. "I did some things early on that kind of worked against me and it took me a little time to get back to myself. Hitting is so precise. The slightest little detail can make the biggest difference, especially for me.

"I finally got to the point where I don't even look at the defense anymore. I just go up there and it's me and the pitcher, and I'm aggressive and I'm going to hit the ball hard."

Palmeiro did a little soul-searching before coming up with the solution.

"I hit 40 home runs every year for the last 10 years, basically, but I was stuck at 13. There's really no difference in my physical ability. I thought, `What's the biggest difference?' To me, it was more the approach than anything else," he said.

"There would be a hole on the left side and I'd try to hit a ground ball, and that's fine and dandy. But if I'm going to hit in the middle of the lineup, my job is to drive the ball and maybe even hit a home run."

Palmeiro, who turns 40 on Friday, already has arranged to work with a personal trainer this winter for the first time in his career and vows to be stronger next year.

Planning for 2005

The Orioles will conduct an organizational meeting next week to get a head start on decisions that affect the 2005 season.

Beattie, vice president Mike Flanagan and Ed Kenney, director of baseball administration, will meet with Mazzilli and his coaching staff. Palmeiro will be one of the topics, but they also must decide which players to subtract from the 40-man roster to make room for prospects that have to be protected.

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