The Baltimore Orioles are close to finalizing the re-signing of free agent designated hitter Harold Baines, and are drawing nearer to an agreement with free agent Jeff Conine, sources said today.
"I don't see anything major that is going to prevent it," said Conine's agent, Michael Watkins.
Orioles director of player personnel Syd Thrift said only that talks with the veteran hitters were "progressing nicely."
Baines, a 40-year-old designated hitter, hit .322 with 24 homers and 81 RBI in 107 games for the Orioles last season, before being traded to Cleveland on Aug. 27 for two minor league pitchers. He hit .271 with one homer and 22 RBI in 28 games for the Indians.
The Orioles are believed to be offering Baines, a resident of St. Michael's on Maryland's Eastern Shore, a one-year contract for slightly more than the $1.7 million he earned last season.
Conine, who plays first base, left and right field, was acquired from Kansas City in spring training last season and hit .291 with 13 homers and 75 RBI in 139 games.
Conine, 33, was unhappy during the first part of last season when manager Ray Miller kept him on the bench behind Will Clark, B.J. Surhoff, Albert Belle and Baines. He made occasional appearances against left-handed pitchers, but proved himself as an everyday player when Clark made two lengthy stays on the disabled list.
If the Orioles sign Baines, the same foursome presumably would be blocking Conine's path to the starting lineup. However, Conine and the Orioles believe new manager Mike Hargrove will be able to satisfy Conine's playing-time desires. Talks between Conine and the Orioles have focused on a two-year deal with a one-year option, believed to worth about $2.5 million annually.
"The difference this time is Mike Hargrove," Thrift said. "If you look at what he has done in the past, [in Cleveland] he always found a way to get [David] Justice and [Richie] Sexson and Baines and those guys in the lineup. It's a fair comparison to what we would have here."
The Orioles cleared space on the 40-man roster today by releasing right-handed pitcher Doug Linton, 34, who was 1-4 with a 5.95 ERA in 14 games for the Orioles, including eight starts.