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Palmeiro finalizes deal with Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Rafael Palmeiro plans to finish his career in
Baltimore and enter the Hall of Fame as an Oriole.

Palmeiro, 39, passed a physical Tuesday and finalized his $4.5
million, one-year contract.

The deal calls for $4 million this season and includes a $4.5
million team option for 2005 with a $500,000 buyout. He can earn
another $1 million annually in performance bonuses.

Palmeiro expects to stick around long enough to get another
contract -- and perhaps one after that.

"I'm looking forward to this new chapter in my career," he
said. "I'm here to play for a long time. As long as I'm healthy,
as long as I'm productive, as long as these guys want me and we're
winning, I don't see any reason why I should quit. I love this game
too much to walk away from it."

Palmeiro enjoyed five productive years with the Orioles from
1994-98 before signing as a free agent with the Texas Rangers. He
became a free agent after the 2003 season, and Palmeiro promptly
sought to latch on with Baltimore.

"I know what it's like to play here. Those were the best five
years of my career," he said.

Palmeiro hit .260 with 38 homers and 112 RBI last year. During
an outstanding career that began in 1986 with the Chicago Cubs,
he's hit .291 with 2,780 hits and 528 homers -- 13th on the career
list.

He could reach 600 homers and 3,000 hits in 2005, numbers that
usually guarantee entry into the Hall of Fame.

Speaking of numbers, Palmeiro said he will negotiate with
Baltimore outfielder Jay Gibbons to get back No. 25.

"It's a very important number. I've had it since my days in
Chicago," Palmeiro said. "It would be nice to have it. I'm
planning on retiring as an Oriole, and I'm lucky enough to be voted
into the Hall of Fame, I'd like to be an Oriole and wear No. 25."

Palmeiro saw part-time duty at first base with the Rangers last
season, but in 2003 expects to play the position on a regular
basis.

"I've got a lot to offer, not only as a hitter but on
defense," he said. "I'm going to play first base, and I'm going
to play it very well."

After the strike-shortened 1994 season, Palmeiro averaged 40
home runs and 119 runs batted in his final four years with
Baltimore. He helped the Orioles reach the playoffs in 1996 and
'97, 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 $50 million,
five-year offer from the Orioles and signed with Texas.

"When I left, I went home to be with my family," he said. "I
never thought that this would open up again, but what other way to
finish my career than as an Oriole?"

That would be fine with the Orioles, who expect Palmeiro to do
more than merely add punch to the lineup.

"We're happy to have Raffy on board," Orioles vice president
Mike Flanagan said. "What Raffy brings is the consistency we were
looking for, both offensively and defensively. We want Raffy to be
our everyday first baseman not only for this year, but for years to
come."

The Orioles and Palmeiro share the same goal: to reach the
playoffs. Baltimore has endured six straight losing seasons, but
the addition of free agents Palmeiro, shortstop Miguel Tejada and
catcher Javy Lopez have given the franchise reason to believe it
can be a contender.

The pitching is still shaky, even if the ongoing negotiations
with free agent right-hander Sidney Ponson turn out to be
successful. But there's no question this is a better team than the
one that went 71-91 in 2003.

"We may just go with the young pitchers and see what they're
capable of," Orioles vice president Jim Beattie said.
"Defensively, they'll get the support; we'll be an improved
defensive club. And we should be able to score more runs."