Orioles' next Davis move will be tricky one at best


So you think that if the Orioles don't re-sign Glenn Davis, it's all a waste.


The issue no longer is whether Pete Harnisch becomes a perennial All-Star, Steve Finley turns into the next Brett Butler and Curt Schilling salvages his major-league career.

Davis' rare neck injury changed the equation. The Orioles don't need to justify this trade, a la Brady Anderson and Juan Bell. They have deeper questions to consider.

In short, they must decide whether to commit additional millions to a slugger who A) might never regain full strength or B) might bounce back to hit 40 home runs.

Guess what? They're damned if they do, damned if they don't. If they keep Davis, he better be healthy. And if they lose him, he better not show up in the All-Star Game next year.

The tricky part is, Davis might not be 100 percent by the end of the season. Even if he can hit, no one knows if he'll play first base again. As free agents go, he could be the all-time gamble.

Davis took 25 swings at half speed Wednesday in his first batting practice since late April. That in itself was progress, but don't expect No. 37 (that is his number, isn't it?) to be back in the cleanup spot anytime soon.

In fact, club officials privately are divided over whether Davis will return this season, if only as a DH. The view of Michael Moye, one of Davis' agents, is a resounding "cautiously optimistic."

This, after Moye and Orioles assistant general manager Frank Robinson accompanied Davis to his visit with orthopedist Robert Watkins of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles last Wednesday.

Davis, 30, was examined by three different specialists and a physical therapist. According to Moye, "All agreed it was too early to resume game conditions without the risk of re-injury."

Moye said the doctors prescribed three more weeks of intense therapy. Davis will visit Watkins again Monday for another test, but nothing further will be resolved until later this month.

"What you don't know is just how damaged the [spinal accessory] nerve was," Moye said yesterday. "We know it's regenerating. But it's got to regenerate some more."

Where does this leave the Orioles? Between your basic rock and a hard place. They're paying Davis $3.275 million this season. Right now that equates to $818,750 for each of his four homers, $272,917 for each of his 12 games.

Those numbers could change, but the investment is already blown. The Orioles too often base decisions on the bottom line, but in Davis' case it would be difficult to fault them for any reluctance the second time around.

That is, if he's still hurt. And even then, who can be sure? Baseball offers a long list of players who recovered from injuries that supposedly threatened their careers: Dave Winfield, Orel Hershiser, Don Mattingly, et al.

"Hopefully he'll be back in the lineup and playing this year, which will relieve the uncertainty of it all," Orioles president Larry Lucchino said. "He's worked hard to get himself back into shape. He's determined to play again this year. Let's hope that happens."

OK, but here's the crazy thing: From a purely selfish standpoint, the Orioles might be better off if Davis doesn't return this year. Say he comes back the final month and hits a dozen homers. Clubs will be drooling when he enters the free-agent market.

At that point it would be Goodbye, Glenn. The Orioles woulreceive as compensation the signing team's No. 1 draft choice and another pick between the first and second rounds. Not much, considering they already lost Harnisch, Finley and Schilling.

That's the worst-case scenario. It would amount to a huge stroke of misfortune, but not one in which blame could be assessed. There is such a thing as bad luck in baseball. Neither Davis nor the Orioles envisioned this predicament.

Now the club is for sale, further confusing the issue: The Orioles probably won't make Davis a long-term offer, even if he's healthy. They'd prefer to sign him to a one-year deal loaded with incentives -- a fair solution for both sides.

That way, Davis retains his free agency, and the Orioles retain his services. Davis spoke frequently in spring training of his deep commitment to traditional values. That should translate into a sense of obligation toward the Orioles.

Neither Davis nor Moye has specifically addressed the free-agent question, but both have spoken highly of the Orioles. "The whole organization has been first-class," Moye said. "Can I tell you they've done anything that would cause Glenn to reconsider a long-term relationship with them? No -- quite the opposite."

It all might mean nothing. Heck, Davis might wind up in Cleveland next year. That won't mean the Orioles made a foolish trade, or a foolish decision. You take your best shot. You don't look back.

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