Fences mended, Palmeiro to play close to home

BALTIMORE -- Rafael Palmeiro is returning to Baltimore, where he enjoyed five outstanding seasons before his acrimonious departure in 1998.

Palmeiro, 39, agreed to terms with the Orioles on Saturday, accepting a one-year contract with a club option for 2005. The first baseman-designated hitter became a free agent after spending the past five seasons with the Texas Rangers.

Palmeiro hit .260 with 38 homers and 112 RBIs last year. During
an outstanding career that began in 1986 with the Chicago Cubs,
he's hit .291 with 2,780 hits and 528 home runs.

"Raffy is one of the steadiest, most consistent hitters in the
game. He's a former team MVP and helped us to the postseason
twice," said Mike Flanagan, Orioles vice president for baseball
After the strike-shortened 1994 season, Palmeiro averaged 40
home runs and 119 RBIs in his final four years with Baltimore. He
helped the Orioles reach the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, and made
the All-Star team in 1998.
But Baltimore moved slowly in negotiating a new deal after the
1998 season, and Palmeiro ultimately rejected a five-year, $50
million offer from the Orioles and signed a five-year, $45 million
contract with Texas.
At the time, Palmeiro said the deciding factor was that he
wanted to play close to home. The Orioles privately accused him of
prolonging negotiations to drive up the Rangers' offer.
And now, the Orioles and Palmeiro are united again with the same
goal: to reach the playoffs.
"It brings another powerful hitter to the middle of our
lineup," Flanagan said.
Coming off a team-record sixth straight losing season, Baltimore
has undergone a dramatic facelift this offseason in an effort to
challenge Boston and the New York Yankees in the AL East.
After hiring Lee Mazzilli as their new manager, the Orioles
raided the free agent market and nabbed Palmeiro, shortstop Miguel
Tejada and catcher Javy Lopez _ all three of whom are represented
by the same agents, Fernando Cuza and Diego Benz.
The Orioles still hope to add standout outfielder Vladimir
Guerrero and pitcher Sidney Ponson, another former Oriole, by next
Palmeiro has played in at least 154 games every year since 1995,
although recently most of his playing time has been as a DH. He
probably will split time at first base with Jay Gibbons, David
Segui and B.J. Surhoff.
Palmeiro could reach 600 home runs and 3,000 hits before the end
of the 2005 season. He has hit at least 38 homers in each of the
last nine years.