O's may take cut at Davis- Murray duo DH, ex-Reds outfielder would provide punch, cost less than Vaughn; Catcher Pena also eyed; Davis could play CF, with Anderson in left


The Orioles are back in the running for designated hitter Eddie Murray, and are pursuing former All-Star outfielder Eric Davis and backup catcher Tony Pena.

According to league sources, the Orioles have discussed contracts with Murray and Davis, and may have with Pena. Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone confirmed the club's interest in those three players, all free agents, who would at least lend plenty of experience. Murray will be 41 at the start of the 1997 season, Davis 34 and Pena 39.

Orioles general manager Pat Gillick told Murray's agent last month that he wasn't sure if the club could fit the future Hall of Famer into its budget. But Orioles officials decided last week to expand the payroll, perhaps beyond the $50 million spent last season.

Gillick and Malone have looked into the possibility of signing free-agent slugger Greg Vaughn, who would cost in the neighborhood of $5.5 million per year. Vaughn has to decide today whether to accept arbitration from San Diego so the Orioles could make their own bid.

But the Orioles seem to be looking to sign two players -- Davis and Murray -- for less. Davis batted .287 with 26 homers and 83 RBIs in 129 games for Cincinnati; he played most of his games in center field, and probably would for the Orioles, with Brady Anderson moving to left field.

Davis, regarded as a good outfielder, would add speed; he stole 23 bases in 32 attempts. But he is also prone to strikeouts, having struck out 121 times in 415 at-bats. At the close of the 1996 season, he asked the Reds for a two-year, $6 million contract, and Cincinnati turned him down and did not offer him arbitration.

Because of this, the Orioles would not lose a draft pick if they signed him. But at least one other team, the Philadelphia Phillies, has interest in Davis, and perhaps as many as three other teams.

Last month, Murray's agent submitted a proposal that called for the veteran to take a big pay cut, from $2 million to something between $1 million and $1.5 million. The Orioles may want him to accept an even larger cut, to be a platoon player. Murray, who hit 22 homers and drove in 79 runs, could be the left-handed designated hitter.

"We're talking to him," said Malone. "We're discussing the possibility of his return."

Pena has played behind Sandy Alomar Jr. for the last three DTC seasons, his value based on his defensive ability. Pena sets a good target, a low target. That makes him, in the words of one AL insider, "a low-ball catcher."

That skill would make him a good match for Orioles sinkerballer Scott Erickson, who has butted heads with regular catcher Chris Hoiles in the past.

Pena does not have a strong arm anymore, but he has a quick release, and threw out 38 percent of potential base stealers (17 of 45). Pena is an offensive liability, hitting .195 with only five extra-base hits in 174 at-bats for Cleveland last season.

In other Orioles news:

Because the New York Yankees signed David Wells, the Orioles will have two first-round draft picks in '97 -- their own, and that of the Yankees -- and a so-called sandwich pick, between the first and second rounds. But the rush of free-agent signings and rules stemming from the new labor agreement have created a unusual number of compensatory draft picks, so that as of today, there are 34 picks for 30 teams in the first round, and the Orioles would pick at No. 26 and No. 30. There also are extra picks in the second round.

The Orioles have talked to the Texas Rangers about a trade for left-hander Darren Oliver, but Texas GM Doug Melvin said yesterday that the signing of free agent John Wetteland makes him less inclined to deal a starter. The Rangers had been dangling Oliver and Roger Pavlik in an effort to land a closer, and have interest in Armando Benitez.

The Orioles have a standing offer to infielder Tony Fernandez, but Fernandez's agent said yesterday that right now, Fernandez's best options are the Indians and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Orioles want Fernandez as a utility infielder, while Fernandez wants a chance to play regularly.

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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