Orioles sign Millar to 1-year deal

Updated: January 12, 2006, 8:59 PM ET
Associated Press

BALTIMORE -- First baseman Kevin Millar agreed to a $2.1 million, one-year contract Thursday with the Baltimore Orioles, who hope the former Boston Red Sox star can provide leadership and some punch in the lineup.

First Base
Boston Red Sox

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"I see him playing a lot of first base, designated hitter and in the outfield," Orioles first-year manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We get a guy with playoff experience, someone who was part of a World Series team. We can use that kind of player in our clubhouse. It gives us a little chemistry."

The 34-year-old Millar, who can make an additional $2.6 million in performance bonuses, hit .276 with 25 home runs and 96 RBI with the Red Sox in 2003. It was during that season that he coined the phrase, "Cowboy Up!" -- which became Boston's battle cry in September and into the playoffs.

Millar also fell in love with the with the intense competition of the AL East, and the opportunity to stay in the division made Baltimore his first choice among the teams that tried to sign him.

"This division is where you want to be as a baseball player. There's nothing like it," Millar said. "It's like 162 playoff games."

Millar batted .297 with 18 homers and 74 RBI for the World Series champions in 2004, but his production dropped last year, when he hit .272 with nine homers and 50 RBI. He did, however, remain a leader in the Boston clubhouse, and he hopes to do the same in Baltimore.

"I like people. I like my teammates. I can't stand cliques," Millar said. "I'm not a very good player, but I will bring a presence [where] there's not many cliques. If there's an intangible, I bring that intangible."

"Kevin will be missed," Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield said. "He was the guy that always kept things light and humorous and funny. Baltimore is getting a pretty good hitter and a great teammate, a guy that makes things fun."

This division is where you want to be as a baseball player. There's nothing like it. It's like 162 playoff games.
Kevin Millar

Most of all, the Orioles want Millar's right-handed swing to bolster a lineup that struggled to score in 2005.

"It's certainly a piece that helps us along the way," Perlozzo said. "We're starting to fill some holes."

Millar is a career .289 batter over 932 games and exactly 3,000 at-bats. He has 111 homers and 471 RBI.

In six full major league seasons, he has averaged 17 home runs and 67 RBI. He is a career .302 hitter with runners in scoring position, and has a career on-base percentage of .365. He hopes to see a return to those sorts of numbers in 2006.

"I expect myself to have a way better year, statistically," Millar said. "I think Fenway, to an extent, got me pull-happy. I started trying to pull every solitary pitch possible."

Primarily a first baseman during his three years in Boston -- he made 102 starts at first base last year, with 12 starts each in left and right field -- Millar has played 425 games at first and 352 in the outfield. He also has appeared in 28 games at third base.

Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan conceded that Millar and Jeff Conine -- also signed by Baltimore this offseason -- are similar players, but he said their presence would improve a clubhouse that became tense and fractious in the second half of 2005, when Rafael Palmeiro was suspended for using steroids and the team plummeted in the standings.

"It was an extroverted ballclub that became just the opposite the second half of the season, so it's been a conscious effort to make sure we can try to maintain that energy," Flanagan said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press