-- Only days from his 40th birthday, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro has reached a midlife career crisis.

On Monday, Palmeiro was in the starting lineup against Boston as the designated hitter, meaning his $4.5 million option for next season will not kick in. Instead, the Orioles will buy out Palmeiro's contract for $500,000 and perhaps try to sign him for less money.

"Certainly the door is still open," Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie said. "We're not cutting anything out."

Palmeiro, who was batting .262 with 20 home runs entering Monday's game, needed to play first base for 140 games this season in order to trigger the contract. Palmeiro has played 125 games at first with only 14 remaining.

"That's the way baseball is," he said. "That not why I came back [to Baltimore]. That wasn't my intent. I was hoping things would work out good so I could play here and not put on another uniform."

Palmeiro declined to speculate on next season.

"I have to approach it as a business, like they have," he said. "I guess there would be options now, other than here."

Prior to this season, Palmeiro had not shown he was approaching a slide, averaging almost 42 home runs in his previous four seasons with the Texas Rangers. But this season, Palmeiro slumped badly at the beginning of the year and showed little power. On July 6, his batting average stood at a season-low .242 with only 10 home runs. Most puzzling, Palmeiro showed an inability to hit left-handed pitching. Palmeiro, a career .284 hitter against lefties prior to this season, is hitting .190 against them.

"It's just been a tough year," he said. "I didn't envision this happening as far as not having a chance to get the option to vest. I never thought it would come into play."

Palmeiro said neither Beattie nor Vice President of Baseball Operations Mike Flanagan spoke to him about the situation. Palmeiro did speak with Lee Mazzilli almost two weeks ago, though the Orioles' manager said the contract was never discussed.

Palmeiro vows to return strong next season. He has hired a trainer for the first time in his career.

"I'm not young," said Palmeiro, whose birthday is Friday. "I'm going to be 40. I need to stay healthy and get stronger."