Conine, O's agree on 1-year contract

Tentative deal for player to return is worth $1.75M

Baseball

December 21, 2005|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

The Orioles reached a tentative agreement last night on a one-year contract with free agent Jeff Conine, returning the veteran to the city where he had played for five seasons.

The deal, which likely will be announced today, is worth approximately $1.75 million with incentives that could push the former Florida Marlin's contract to $2 million for the 2006 season.

"[Conine] is a guy we targeted all along," said Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo. "When we talked about the chemistry of the ballclub, we wanted him to be back. It looks like he's going to be in a lot bigger role, and we are comfortable with that. Right now, I see him playing some first base and left field, but he's also going to DH."

Though Conine's role will largely depend on what other moves the Orioles make this offseason, the 39-year-old gives Perlozzo some flexibility. The Orioles currently don't know who is going to be their Opening Day first baseman, left fielder or designated hitter, and Conine has occupied all those roles at some point during his major league career.

Conine, who played with the Orioles from 1999 until 2003, hit .304 last year with three home runs and 33 RBIs in 335 at-bats for the Marlins. Eager to add his bat to the lineup, the Orioles also wanted to inject his presence into the clubhouse.

Several players acknowledged last season that the Orioles lacked a take-charge presence in the clubhouse, a veteran to mentor the younger players and take other players to task for unacceptable clubhouse behavior. Jay Gibbons said that Conine occupied that role in his first stint with the Orioles.

"He was pretty much Brian [Roberts'] and I's mentor coming up," said Gibbons. "He was my favorite teammate, a great, great clubhouse guy. ... I was scared to death, we had Cal Ripken on the team, and [Conine] just took me under his wing. We've been friends ever since."

Conine chose the Orioles over the Atlanta Braves. The Orioles likely have more playing time to offer than the Braves, and Conine also has close relationships with several current Orioles and Perlozzo, and was an extremely popular player during his first tenure in Baltimore.

No offer for Millwood

The Orioles remain interested in Kevin Millwood, the most coveted free-agent pitcher still on the market, but they have not yet extended the right-hander an offer, according to two front-office members. They are speaking regularly with Scott Boras, Millwood's agent, and an offer could be coming soon.

It has been speculated in published reports that the Orioles are one of the teams that has made Millwood a four-year offer in the $45 million to $50 million range, but that was disputed by the Orioles' front office. The Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals and Texas Rangers, who Millwood visited yesterday, have reportedly made the pitcher offers.

Lopez, O's talk

Disappointed that he was displaced from the everyday catcher role after the Orioles signed Ramon Hernandez, Javy Lopez has his sights on either a trade or signing a contract extension.

Chuck Berry, Lopez's agent, said that he sent the Orioles a proposal this week for a contract extension to try to "get the ball rolling." Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan wouldn't comment, but according to two team sources, the Orioles would consider giving Lopez an extension at the right price.

If he is not traded, Lopez will likely be used at first base, designated hitter and backup catcher this season. Berry said that Lopez is apprehensive about playing a different position in his contract year.

"We've talked in very general terms [about an extension], that's one of the ways of potentially working things out," said Berry. "He is not comfortable going into this upcoming year, the last year of his contract, without an idea of what's going on. ... We're not actively pushing for a trade. We just want to see it work out one way or another."

Byrnes gone

The Orioles had until midnight today to offer 2006 contracts to unsigned players, and they offered contracts to all their arbitration-eligible players except outfielder Eric Byrnes.

They non-tendered Byrnes, who struggled last season after being acquired from Colorado in a July 29 trade for Larry Bigbie. They also non-tendered reliever Eddy Rodriguez and starting pitcher Kurt Ainsworth, who was one of the centerpieces in the deal with the San Francisco Giants for Sidney Ponson. Ainsworth made only seven starts for the organization.

Around the horn

The Orioles finalized one-year deals yesterday with outfielders David Newhan, catcher Geronimo Gil and reliever John Parrish, allowing the club to avoid salary arbitration with each. The Orioles also signed the following to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training: infielders Eddy Garabito, Alejandro Freire, Brandon Marsters and Napoleon Calzado; outfielders Keith Reed and Howie Clark; and pitchers Winston Abreu, Orber Moreno and John Stephens.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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