A portion of the Orioles' offseason plans became more apparent yesterday when they re-signed Rafael Palmeiro to a one-year contract with the intention of making him the full-time designated hitter in 2005.
Palmeiro signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal in January that included a $4.5 million option for next season if he played 140 games at first base. He fell short by 12 after serving as the DH 14 times in his last 31 appearances.
His new contract, which doesn't include an option or performance bonuses, guarantees $3 million next year.
"What happened last year is in the past," said Palmeiro, who returned to the Orioles after a five-year absence and batted .258 with 23 homers and 88 RBIs in 154 games. "I'm not going to worry about it. I'm more concerned with moving forward."
Executive vice president Jim Beattie indicated yesterday that the club remains in the market for a regular first baseman. The list of free agents includes Carlos Delgado and Richie Sexson.
"I would think that's one of the things we'd like to try to get accomplished, to get someone who can play there every day," Beattie said.
"As we look to next year, our thought is for [Palmeiro] to play mostly at DH, though I'm sure he'll play some at first base on occasion."
When he returned to the club in January, Palmeiro said he was prepared to play 162 games at first. Yesterday, Palmeiro said he was "fine with whatever they want me to do."
"I just want to win games," he said. "Every year at this time I watch teams celebrate at the end of the season, and I'll probably watch the Red Sox win the World Series tonight. It's something I want so bad. I want to see what it's like to be there. I'll do whatever. They know I can play first. I can DH, I could play some second base if they wanted me to. I could go in the outfield. I can even pitch. I can throw strikes."
Palmeiro, 40, batted .322 with 21 RBIs in his first 24 games, but he hit a combined .227 in May, June and July - including .185 in June. No longer preoccupied with going to the opposite field against infield shifts, Palmeiro batted .306 with nine homers and 25 RBIs over his last 29 games. The nine homers matched a club record for September.
The Orioles spent the past two weeks in serious discussions with Palmeiro, who had expressed some bitterness in September over his limited appearances at first base.
"All the information we had was that he was interested in coming back. We just needed to get it nailed down as quickly as possible. That's what we tried to do," Beattie said.
Palmeiro's 551 career homers rank 10th on baseball's all-time list. He's also eighth with 1,161 extra-base hits, 11th with 5,223 total bases and 17th with 1,775 RBIs, and needs 78 more hits to reach 3,000.
"I would rather do it in Baltimore than someplace else," he said. "I've got a history in Baltimore. I've got great friends, I've got great respect for our ownership group. It's not my focus, but when it does happen, I'm glad it's going to be with Baltimore."
If the Orioles are intent on making Palmeiro the primary designated hitter and acquiring a first baseman, the chances of Jay Gibbons remaining with the team become more slim. The team's winter agenda includes finding a right fielder, and without a position available to him, Gibbons could be non-tendered.