1st choice: Millar eyes O's return

The Baltimore Sun

His contributions to Boston's first World Series title team in 86 years will forever link him to Red Sox Nation. He has spent more time with the Florida Marlins than with any other club.

Yet Kevin Millar, the fun-loving, trash-talking, gear-grinding veteran first baseman, thinks of himself as an Oriole.

He has been one since 2006. And, despite facing free agency this offseason, he wants to be an Oriole again in 2009. Like everything with Millar, that's not a secret.

"Truthfully speaking, I want to be here," Millar said. "I feel like everything is going in the right direction."

His viewpoint hasn't changed even as the Orioles scuffle through another losing campaign.

"I enjoy the tough times when you are rebuilding, revamping," he said. "I enjoy those times because when you see a team turn the corner, it is pretty neat."

But will Millar, the only Orioles regular eligible for free agency, be around for better times in Baltimore? Will he even be here on Opening Day 2009?

It's a complicated scenario, and an answer won't be given before late December, perhaps not until January. The Orioles likely will study their options, analyze the trade and waiver markets and make a run at prize free agent and Mount St. Joseph alumnus Mark Teixeira before any decision on Millar is made.

Orioles president Andy MacPhail isn't about to show his offseason hand. He doesn't talk about pending free agents, but he acknowledges that Millar is the type of player the Orioles want on their roster.

"We have talked at great length and often about needing players that demonstrate energy, effort and enthusiasm," MacPhail said. "And, clearly, Kevin does all three in a big way and has been a tremendously positive influence."

The quandary is that the Orioles are rebuilding and Millar will be 37 this month. His .243 batting average is the lowest in his 11-season career, but his 20 homers and 71 RBIs have put him on pace for his best power numbers since 2003.

He is steady defensively and is the clubhouse clown, keeping everyone loose.

"Kevin has been great for us," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "He is somebody who has been important for this team in a lot of different ways. He has produced, for one. And two, his personality is something that I think this organization was lacking for a little while."

Millar could be the Orioles' starting first baseman next season, partially by default. There are not a lot of readily available alternatives inside or outside the organization.

The Orioles have no one to fill the void in the minors, and, besides Teixeira, the 2009 first base class is weak, though it could include Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi and Hank Blalock, all veterans with impressive resumes and cloudy futures.

Few of the free-agent choices would be as cost- effective as Millar, who is making $3.8 million this season.

If the Orioles wanted to go cheaper, they could get creative, auditioning another position player at first, such as left fielder Luke Scott or outfield prospect Nolan Reimold. Or they could give more starts to designated hitter Aubrey Huff.

"First basemen can come from different places," MacPhail said. "It is not unusual for outfielders or other position players to gravitate toward it. It is not an easy position, but it is a position that sometimes gets filled by players coming from different places on the field."

Replacing Millar on the field could be easier than filling his role off it.

"He's giving our clubhouse an identity," manager Dave Trembley said. "He's an example of a lot of things we're trying to do here - play hard, respect the game, compete. I think the guy has done more for us than meets the eye as far as stats. What he gives us is a consistent effort all the time and a definite desire to win."

It's possible the Orioles could come to Millar this winter with an offer to return as a part-timer or in competition for a starting job.

"Never have I ever backed away or shied away from competition. I think that is what allows me to be where I am at," Millar, a former independent league player, said. "I enjoy it. I don't think anything has ever been given to me."

That said, he loves playing every day and would have difficulty accepting a part-time role anywhere without a fight.

"You come in and compete for a spot in the roster, and then you go from there," he said. "You try to make it difficult for them to keep your name out of the lineup."

The bottom line, Millar said, is that he wants to remain an Oriole and he is hoping the feeling is mutual.

"My job is to finish as strong as I can and hopefully they will want me back," he said. "I don't know their plans. Maybe they don't want me back. Then I would shake their hands, tell them thanks for the opportunity and then move on."

Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

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