Free Agency Watch: Kevin Millar

The Orioles have been among the most active teams in what is still a young off-season. Their latest move has Kevin Millar returning to Baltimore.

The Orioles have reportedly come to terms with first baseman Kevin Millar on a one year deal for $2.5 million. Millar had been seeking a two year deal in this off-season's escalating free agent market, but Baltimore represented his best chance at consistent playing time. His contract does have a vesting option based on playing time similar to the most recent contract that Jeff Conine signed with the Orioles. Millar's base salary of $2.5 million is a $400,000 raise from the money he was guaranteed in 2006.

When the off-season began, the Orioles identified left field and first base as opportunities for improving their offense. Unfortunately, the market for first basemen was even weaker than the market for outfielders. With the bullpen patched up via free agency and now Kevin Millar re-signed, the Orioles will head into the Winter Meetings with their focus on finding their left-fielder for 2007.

Fortunately, the perceived offensive hole at first base was not nearly as bad as the one in left field. While American League first basemen hit a composite .280/.352/.467 batting line, Millar hit a more than respectable .272/.374/.437. Concerns about the 35 year old declining due to age are largely tempered by the fact that he actually performed much better in the second half of the season, batting .299/.394/.505. Millar adds a right-handed bat to a lineup that has often struggled against lefties, but his dramatic reverse platoon splits in 2006 indicate that he'll be unlikely to do the majority of his damage against southpaws.

Millar is also one of the more underrated defenders at his position, having gained a reputation as a poor defender years ago, despite a career 106 Rate2 at first base and a career 102 Rate2 in left field. At the very least, he is certainly much better than forcing Jay Gibbons on the field with a glove on.

Should they be so inclined, this move could allow the Orioles the freedom to think longer term about first base this off-season. For instance, they could still pursue a prospect blocked in his own organization, such as Justin Huber, Chris Carter, or Joe Koshansky. Millar's presence would not only allow a young first basemen to progress at their own pace, but his contract also allows for an easy transition in 2008. Of course, a long-term solution to first base will have to take a backseat to finding a starting left-fielder, but at least this move will prevent the Orioles from trading something valuable like Hayden Penn for the likes of Richie Sexson and what remains one of the worst contracts in baseball.

Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com


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