-- The Baltimore Orioles trotted out new free agent signee Omar Daal at an afternoon news conference today, giving occasion to search one's memory for the last time the following words were spoken: "The Orioles were my first choice."
Daal, who got a two-year deal worth a guaranteed $7.5 million, spoke those words today. They were strange words to hear about a franchise that, through five straight losing seasons, has lost whatever was left of its winner's aura from the late-1990s, and a franchise that has seen most of its free agent targets the past few winters sign elsewhere.
But Daal, a left-hander with a 64-67 record during a 10-year career spent almost exclusively in the National League, rattled off his reasons for wanting to come to Baltimore:
His success in limited action at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during interleague play. His desire to pitch in the American League where fewer hitters know him and to remain a starter, as opposed to a reliever. And his home in Westin, Fla., not far from the Orioles' Fort Lauderdale spring training headquarters.
Despite the Orioles' early interest, Daal held out until now in hopes of coaxing a third guaranteed year out of someone, but he settled for $3 million next season and $4.5 million in 2004, with incentives based on innings pitched that could tack on an extra $1 million.
"If I pitch well here, and they want me to come back [after two years]," Daal said, "I'd be happy to stay."
The Orioles, too, had Daal high on their list of targets this winter, mostly for the simple reason he is left-handed and thus will become the first left-hander with a regular spot in the Orioles' rotation since Jimmy Key in 1998.
"And he does all the things we like pitchers to do," said Orioles Vice President of Baseball Operations Mike Flanagan. "He's a pitcher, not a thrower. He holds runners real well."
Daal's presence also gives the Orioles an extra experienced starting pitcher should they find a trade partner willing to part with a proven power hitter, which the Orioles desperately need. In addition to Daal, the Orioles will have right-handers Rodrigo Lopez, Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson, Pat Hentgen and Scott Erickson. Ponson and/or Johnson remain the most likely to be traded.
Of course, in the Orioles' division -- the American League East -- six starting pitchers can hardly be considered a surplus.
"We still need three or four more starters," Flanagan joked, "to catch up to the Yankees."