Six days before the start of baseball's winter meetings, the Orioles' offseason wish list grew smaller yesterday, thanks to a flurry of activity that landed the club three new faces and welcomed back a familiar one.
Continuing an overhaul of their bullpen, the Orioles agreed to deals with veteran right-handed relievers Chad Bradford and Scott Williamson, club sources confirmed. They addressed their hole at backup catcher by agreeing in principle with Kansas City Royals free agent Paul Bako, and they also reached an oral agreement with popular first baseman Kevin Millar.
With the earlier signings of relievers Jamie Walker and Danys Baez and the trade for Jaret Wright, the Orioles have made seven additions since free agency started a little more than two weeks ago. Suddenly, an organization that has been chided for indecisiveness and inactivity has become one of the busiest in the league this offseason.
"Obviously, we have some momentum and we've gotten positive feedback within the industry," Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said. "This is the direction that we set out and we've been able to have a degree of success, but we still have a lot of work to do. In terms of trying to send messages, we're not in that mode. What we are trying to do is get better."
Bradford, Williamson and Bako are scheduled for physicals tomorrow, after which the deals will become official. Millar doesn't need to take a physical because he was with the club.
Bradford's deal will pay him approximately $10.5 million over three seasons, according to an industry source. Williamson, whose acquisition was first reported by espn.com, agreed to a one-year deal worth $900,000 plus incentives. Bako also accepted a one-year deal for under $1 million.
Originally adamant on getting a two-year deal, Millar decided late Monday night to accept the Orioles' one-year offer for a base salary of approximately $2.5 million plus a vesting option. The option will vest based on plate appearances, similar to the deal Jeff Conine signed last year.
"I made a decision, that Baltimore is where I wanted to be. I want to be an Oriole," said Millar, who said he also received interest from the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants. "I didn't want to play any games. They said they wanted me back and I wanted to be loyal to them. I think this team has made some great acquisitions, and I want to be part of it. This is as excited as I've been in a long time."
Like Baez and Walker, Bradford, 32, was considered one of the top setup men on the free-agent market and he was courted by more than 10 teams. The submarine-style pitcher went 4-2 last season with a 2.90 ERA for the New York Mets. He has made 65 or more appearances in four of the past five seasons, and his ERA has been over 4.00 just once in that span.
Williamson, 30, went 2-4 with a 5.72 ERA while pitching for both the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. The National League Rookie of the Year in 1999, Williamson has had a career marred by injuries, as he had extensive surgery on his pitching elbow in both 2001 and 2004.
Approximately $43 million later, the Orioles are likely done with their quest to bolster what was the second-worst bullpen in the majors last season. At this point, it appears that closer Chris Ray will be the only member from last year's Opening Day relief corps to be returning.
With Ray, Baez, Walker, Bradford and Williamson virtual locks, that leaves only two other available spots. One will be filled by a long man with prospect Hayden Penn a possibility. Brian Burres, John Parrish and Kurt Birkins are expected to compete for the second lefty in the bullpen.
"We had some targeted guys and we felt that we had to be aggressive with them," said Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan. "We feel good about what's happened so far."
The addition of Bako, a 34-year-old journeyman backstop who has a career average of .236 but is touted for his defense, and the return of Millar will allow the Orioles' front office to focus on adding an impact bat. At this point, it appears that Millar will be the club's everyday first baseman, though Jay Gibbons will get a look there this spring.
Millar said he understands his role will be decided by Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, but he is hopeful to be in the lineup nearly every day as a first baseman or designated hitter. Millar hit .272 with 15 homers and 64 RBIs last year and was third on the team with a .374 on-base percentage.
His production picked up dramatically after Conine and Javy Lopez were traded, leaving the former Red Sox player as the everyday first baseman.
"I don't know what they are thinking, but I know I am signed to play and I expect to play," said Millar, who hit .299 with nine homers and 31 RBIs after the All-Star break last year. "They are not signing me to come sit on the bench and platoon."
Duquette and Flanagan said they have turned their attention to filling the Orioles' vacancy in left field. Trade talks are expected to pick up at next week's winter meetings. As far as free-agent outfielders, the Orioles have interest in Luis Gonzalez, Cliff Floyd, Jay Payton and Trot Nixon, though they haven't made a firm offer to any of them.
"Luis' interest is sincere," said his agent, Gregg Clifton, who also represents free-agent pitcher Mark Mulder, whom the Orioles have inquired about. "I've been able to share the wonderful experience of B.J. Surhoff living in Baltimore with his family. Luis has triplets, and the family environment is very important."
Gibbons and second baseman Brian Roberts, who are currently working out in Arizona, have also promoted the team to Gonzalez, who hosted the two Orioles at an Arizona Cardinals football game a couple of weeks ago.