The newest Oriole, Jeff Conine, will play some left field and likely spell his buddy Jay Gibbons in right on occasion. He will see time both at first base and at designated hitter.
But nearly as important as all those roles in the mind of Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan, Conine also is being asked to provide a strong influence over a clubhouse that several players felt was badly in need of a vocal leader last season.
"I take that very seriously," Conine said. "I think management, that's one of the reasons that they brought me back. They know I am going to play hard and lead by example. If there is something that needs to be addressed, I don't mind addressing it."
Conine, 38, passed a physical earlier this week, and his official signing of a one-year deal with an option for a second season, verbally agreed upon late last month, was announced yesterday by the Orioles. He will earn $1.7 million this season.
Conine, who hit .304 in 131 games last season for the Florida Marlins, was a popular member of the Orioles from 1999 to 2003. Gibbons and Orioles All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, both of whom were mentored by Conine during his first stint here, were instrumental in Conine's returning to the Orioles.
"[Roberts] was text-messaging me every hour or something, [saying], `Come on buddy, come on back,' " Conine said jokingly. "When you find people that are like you and really play hard and want to win and care about the game, you want to play with those guys as often as you can. It will be a pleasure to go back and share some experiences with those guys."
Conine had several offers on the table, but he opted to sign with the Orioles not only because of his familiarity with the city and the organization, but because he figured he'd get more of a chance to play on a regular basis.
"In 2001, I played four different positions and I had a really good time doing it. I accepted it as a challenge," Conine said. "Every indication is I'll be out there quite a lot."
Mora process begins
The Orioles have had preliminary discussions with the agent for All-Star third baseman Melvin Mora about a contract extension. Mora, whose contract expires after 2006, said late last season that he wanted to have the contract issue settled before the season begins. Mora has said that he'd like to stay in Baltimore, and indications are that the Orioles will work to grant him his wish.
More on Burnitz saga
Orioles vice president Jim Duquette declined last night to engage in a war of words with Howard Simon, the agent of Jeromy Burnitz, who backed out of a two-year, $12 million deal with the Orioles and finalized a less lucrative agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday.
Simon told the Associated Press yesterday that the reason the free-agent outfielder backed out of a verbal agreement with the Orioles was because of "harsh and intimidating language" in the contract, where "the club almost has the right to do whatever it wants, at its option."
Duquette defended the club's contract, and reiterated his point from Tuesday night when he told The Sun that "we had an agreement and they backed out."
"There is nothing out of the ordinary in our contract language," Duquette said. "This hasn't been an issue for other players here for the past 10 years, and I don't expect it to be an issue going forward."