The power shortage apparently is over at Memorial Stadium, where the Baltimore Orioles announced yesterday the acquisition of first baseman Glenn Davis from the Houston Astros in a four-player deal that could alter the competitive balance of the American League East.
The price was high. The Orioles gave up promising right-handers Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling, as well as outfielder Steve Finley, to obtain one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League.
The price could get higher, since Davis can go to salary arbitration this year and will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season if the club does not sign him to a long-term deal. The Orioles will have to meet his price or face the possibility of losing three solid young players to rent his services for just one season.
But if Davis continues to drive in the runs that have made him one of baseball's most productive hitters the past five years, his presence in the Orioles' starting lineup can't help but make the club a legitimate division contender.
The Orioles may not be done dealing. General manager Roland Hemond confirmed last night that he is having conversations with the Detroit Tigers after a report on ESPN last night that a deal is nearing completion that would send catcher Mickey Tettleton to Detroit for right-handed pitcher Jeff Robinson.
"I can't deny that we have been talking some with the Tigers," said Hemond. "But that's all I can confirm. The tough part is mentioning names of players on the other clubs."
The Tigers are looking for a catcher to replace new-look free agent Mike Heath, and one Michigan-based newspaper chain quoted manager Sparky Anderson last night as saying "there is an interest in Tettleton."
The Tigers have offered Heath, 35, a one-year contract, but he is holding out for a longer deal and has been negotiating with other teams.
Tigers sources told the Booth papers that "the trade is in place."
Robinson, 29, who is going to arbitration, was 10-9 with a 5.96 ERA last season. He walked 88 and gave up 141 hits in 145 innings.
Of the uncertainties involving Davis' contract status, Orioles president Larry Lucchino said: "We had to make the move without having all the information and future possibilities cleared away. You can't wait for everything to be perfect. You have to concentrate on the here and now."
Davis, 29, earned $1.985 million in 1990, a season in which he hit 22 home runs even though he was limited to 93 games and 327 at-bats by a rib-cage injury. He was on his way to salary arbitration with the Astros when the trade was completed, so the Orioles will inherit the case.
"We made every effort to sign him right up until recently, but it became obvious that we would not have the dollars to keep him," Astros general manager Bill Wood said. "You're talking about a player in Davis who was going to take megabucks to keep."
Lucchino said the Orioles would initiate contract negotiations with agent Robert Fraley as soon as possible. Davis reportedly is seeking a five-year deal worth at least $20 million, but the Orioles apparently first will try to sign him to a one-year to avoid an arbitration hearing.
There is some question where Davis will fit into the Orioles' defensive lineup, but manager Frank Robinson already has him fourth in the batting order, where he will protect No. 3 hitter Cal Ripken and take some offensive pressure off Tettleton.
"We're a much better offensive ballclub than we were at the end of the 1990 season," Robinson said. "Hopefully, we'll still be a good defensive ballclub in 1991. We may not have the same speed in the outfield, but I feel we can be a good defensive club and I know we'll be a better offensive club."
So, Hemond wasn't shut out after all. The front office took some criticism when the Orioles contingent came back from the winter meetings without consummating a significant deal, but the Davis talks dated back to well before the December convention. The teams were in contact as early as September, when it became apparent that the Astros were ready to rebuild their struggling team from the bottom up.
The deal was earthshaking enough, but the aftershocks could be felt throughout the Orioles' lineup. In his nearly six years of major-league service, Davis has spent all but a handful of games at first base, where Randy Milligan had just established himself as an everyday player.
Robinson said yesterday that Milligan probably would be the Opening Day starter at first base, which led to speculation that Davis might spend some time as the designated hitter and even in the outfield. But Davis said during a telephone conference call that he hoped to play regularly at first.
"I'll do whatever they want me to do," he said, "but I've worked very hard and I think I've established myself as one of the best first basemen in the National League."
Milligan was on the way to a breakthrough offensive season when he suffered a shoulder separation that cost him most of the last two months of the 1990 campaign. He undoubtedly expected to be the starting first baseman this year, but might find himself getting fitted for an outfielder's glove when he arrives at the Orioles' spring-training complex in February.
Lucchino said last night that the Astros first proposed a package that included Milligan, but the Orioles refused to talk about him. Reliever Mark Williamson also was prominent in the negotiations, according to another source, but the club was not willing to give up three pitchers.
The trade even affects newly acquired Dwight Evans, whose ability to play a significant number of games in the outfield becomes even more important now that the Orioles have a surplus of right-handed first-base and DH candidates.
The Orioles should have had such problems last year, when the club's offensive production was not consistent enough to sustain the injury-riddled pitching staff. So, no one is complaining about a roster that now is weighted heavily toward the right side of the plate.
Pressure had been building on the Orioles to make a major move. The defending division champion Boston Red Sox had more than compensated for the loss of free-agent right-hander Mike Boddicker by signing left-hander Matt Young and first baseman Jack Clark. The second-place Toronto Blue Jays turned two major deals at the winter meetings in December, dramatically altering the chemistry of that club. Even the Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers made significant free-agent acquisitions.
"We certainly gave up some good young players," Hemond said, "but to get a quality player such as Davis, you recognize that you are going to have to come up with some young talent. It's a credit to our scouting and player-development department that we have players available to do that and that there are more to take their place."
Angels thought they were close
The California Angels also were deeply involved in trade talks with the Houston Astros -- so close that they thought they had a deal in place for Glenn Davis late Wednesday night.
Club president Richard Brown confirmed a Los Angeles Times report Wednesday that the team was "on the brink" of making a deal for Davis and reacted with surprise when he heard a radio report yesterday morning that the veteran first baseman had been dealt to the Baltimore Orioles.
"I was so surprised I missed my turnoff on the 55 freeway and ended up in Newport Beach," Brown told the Times.
Brown said he thought the Angels had a deal with Houston, but was informed late Wednesday that something had come up. The Angels reportedly were prepared to send first baseman Wally Joyner, outfielder Dante Bichette and a pitcher to the Astros for Davis.
When informed of the deal, he wondered aloud whether the Astros had gotten enough. The Angels were offering more proven players, but Joyner is in the same contract situation as Davis, albeit in a lower salary category.
"Had Houston held out, they might have gotten a better package," Brown said. "If we had been allowed to continue dealing, we might have offered a more attractive package."
-- Peter Schmuck
Batting first . . .
How Peter Schmuck sees the Orioles' starting lineups for this season:
Vs. left-handers Vs. right-handers
C. Ripken SS
B. Ripken 2B
C. Ripken SS
B. Ripken 2B