Free-agent deal with Palmeiro may be Baltimore's best

First baseman led O's in homers in four of five seasons covered by contract

Free-agent deal with Palmeiro may be Baltimore's best

Before bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season, we asked our 30 beat reporters to look back at their club's past and answer the following question: Who is the best free-agent signing in the team's history?

We narrowed the choices with the following parameters: The signings had to be multiyear contracts, to exclude fluky one-year deals and to focus on players who got real commitments. And contract extensions don't count. Only instances when every team in the league had a chance to bid on the player were allowed, including international free agents who received Major League contracts.

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When the Orioles agreed to a five-year contract with Rafael Palmeiro -- worth slightly more than $30 million -- in December 1993, they certainly got their money's worth.

The addition of Palmeiro came after the O's contract negotiations with Will Clark collapsed at the last minute. Clark ended up signing with the Rangers, and Baltimore got its run-producing first baseman with Palmeiro.

During his first Orioles tenure from 1994-98, Palmeiro posted a slash line of .292/.371/.545 in 736 games. He never went on the disabled list during that span, leading the O's in homers in four of those five seasons.

Palmeiro hit 23 homers in the abbreviated 1994 season, and he led the team in homers, batting average and RBIs in '95. In the following season, Palmeiro blasted 39 homers and drove in 142 runs, helping Baltimore qualify for its first postseason since winning the World Series in '83. In '97, Palmeiro's 38 homers and 110 RBIs helped the O's win the American League East and advance to the AL Championship Series (where they went on to lose to the Indians).

Palmeiro hit 43 home runs in his final season of that contract and went on to sign a five-year deal with the Rangers, turning down the Orioles' five-year offer to play back home close to his family.

Yes, the Palmeiro deal was a good one for the O's. But bringing him back again, as a free agent in 2004, was another story.

Honorable mention
Roberto Alomar: You can certainly make the case for Alomar over Palmeiro, as the Hall of Famer had two fantastic years in his three-year contract.

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.