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01/12/06 8:53 PM ET
Millar signs deal with Orioles
Baltimore adds veteran bat to lineup, further clarifying outfield
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
BALTIMORE -- Kevin Millar's priorities were different than other free agents this winter. The veteran didn't want to move close to home or to a team where he'd have a guaranteed job. He just wanted to stay right in the thick of the action in the American League's East Division. Millar's wish became a reality Thursday afternoon, when he signed a one-year deal with a base worth $2.1 million with the Baltimore Orioles. "This division is where you want to be, as a baseball player. There's nothing like it, the American League East," he said. "I grew up on the West Coast. You go to the game in the third inning [there] and leave in the seventh, see which movie star is sitting next to you. That's not baseball. "Here, they're out here and it's like 162 playoff games. They're barbecuing, they're eating hot dogs, they're throwing beer at people. It's baseball. ... I like being thrown in the fire." Millar, who spent the last three seasons with Boston, is expected to split time between first base, designated hitter and the outfield. That's a similar assignment to Jeff Conine, who signed a deal with the Orioles last week. Baltimore further clarified the outfield situation by picking up Corey Patterson, which eliminated the vacancy in center field. Still, the team won't commit to Millar or Conine as a dedicated regular at either first base or left field. Millar has several attainable incentive clauses in his contract, but he'll to have hit well and stay healthy to earn most of them. "You've probably heard this word a lot: Flexibility," said Mike Flanagan, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations. "They can DH. Someone can play first, one can play left. It enables the manager to be able to match up a lot more -- when to give guys off -- when they can play all or a lot of positions. "And it's just nice with a player that's been around as much as Conine and Millar have. They're not afraid to throw the glove on and go out in right field. ... They don't have those barriers that maybe younger players do. There's tremendous flexibility, and it will be a great example for younger guys too." For his career, Millar has hit .289 with 111 homers and 471 RBIs. The right-handed hitter's production tailed off last season, but in three years with the Red Sox, he hit 52 homers and drove in 220 runs. Millar's on-base percentage has never dipped below .348 in any season -- in fact, his .355 mark in 2005 would've ranked second among Baltimore's regulars. "That's the number one thing on my mind," said Millar, speaking about proving himself all over again. "Last year was a struggle. And I knew that. The numbers weren't near, personally, what I wanted. "You have to learn through those times, also. I think it made me tougher mentally. In this game, it's how you handle the bad times. Everybody's a good guy when you're hitting .300 and you have 25 home runs." The 34-year-old is also one of the most celebrated clubhouse characters in the game, a reputation that helped land him in Baltimore. The gregarious veteran helped keep Boston's volatile clubhouse moving in a productive manner, and Flanagan acknowledged the chemistry aspect of the signing. "We've always felt that about Jeff Conine, too. We feel like we're building from the clubhouse out," he said. "He's certainly an extroverted guy that we expect to bring a lot to our dugout and our clubhouse. And certainly on the field." "I like people and I like my teammates. You don't have to be best friends with everybody, but I can't stand cliques," said Millar. "I'm not a very good player, but I will bring a presence [where] there's not that many cliques. If there's an intangible, I bring that intangible. "Does that mean I'm going to walk in and change everything? No, but I think it's valuable that everybody has fun and respects each other. Just be a club. Be one." In other news, Baltimore announced signing left-handed reliever Franklyn Gracesqui on Thursday. The Orioles may not be done working on their outfield or their pitching staff, and Flanagan said the next month could bring more moves. When asked what would push the O's closer to contention, Millar chose a diplomatic route. "You're not looking at a team that needs 10 pieces," he said. "I think it's just a matter of things going the right way and pitchers staying healthy. And just going for it. That's the bottom line. You get a good group of guys believing in each other, you've got a shot."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.