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Davis is final touch to Orioles make-over Team hoping ex-Red adds speed, power; Gruber signs, too; DH Incaviglia to return; 'I think we're closer' to Yanks, Johnson says


Eric Davis and Kelly Gruber were out of baseball two years ago, their careers seemingly over. Today, they are the newest members of the Orioles.

Davis, who came back to hit 26 homers and steal 23 bases for the Cincinnati Reds last season, signed a one-year contract for $2.2 million to play left or right field for the Orioles.

Gruber, who last played for the California Angels in 1993, will try to come back and win a job as an extra infielder and outfielder. He signed a minor-league contract that will pay him a base salary of $300,000 should he win a job with the Orioles.

The Orioles also re-signed designated hitter Pete Incaviglia for a base salary of $650,000. General manager Pat Gillick would like to acquire another starting pitcher -- he's going to look at free-agent left-hander Steve Avery -- and needs a utility infielder who can play shortstop and second base. Gillick eventually may trade shortstop Manny Alexander and outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds.

Beyond that, the restructuring of the Orioles for 1997 is complete, with the payroll likely to come in at around $50 million.

"I really felt like the Yankees had a lot of depth and exciting young talent last year, and we were close to them," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "I think we're closer. I think we can compete with anybody in our division."

The Orioles signed Davis, 34, for his speed, defense and right-handed bat. Davis was once considered one of the top players in the majors. He stole as many as 80 bases (in 1986), hit as many as 37 homers (in '87), and drove in 101 runs (in '89). Injuries sidetracked his career, however, and he sat out the entire 1995 season.

He signed a minor-league contract with the Reds before the 1996 season, impressed manager Ray Knight with his play in spring training and won a regular job. Playing mostly center field, had a terrific season, accumulating a .394 on-base percentage, a .523 slugging percentage and a .287 batting average.

The Reds, not completely convinced that Davis could continue performing at that level, would not give him the two-year, $6 million deal he wanted. The Orioles expressed interest in him last Friday, and signed him over slugger Greg Vaughn because he's cheaper and is more versatile.

"He's a complete player," said Gillick. "He can still do a few things defensively and offensively."

Johnson figures with Davis likely to play around 125 to 135 games, he'd rather leave Brady Anderson in center field, instead of moving the All-Star back and forth from left to center. Davis will play left or right, depending on where Johnson decides to position B. J. Surhoff.

Davis, who will be introduced at a news conference today, has a contractual option for 1998 that kicks in automatically if he reaches 500 plate appearances in 1997. His incentives can earn him close to $2.8 million next year.

Gruber, also 34, originally was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1980. He came up as a shortstop, and one of his double-play partners in the minor leagues was Kevin Malone, now the Orioles' assistant GM.

Gillick, the former GM at Toronto, selected Gruber in the Rule 5 draft before the 1984 season, and Gruber developed into a top third baseman, hitting 31 homers and driving in 118 runs for the Blue Jays in 1990.

But injuries hurt his performance, and he dropped out of the majors after the 1993 season. Gruber had surgery to fix a spinal problem in 1995, and began working out shortly thereafter, with the intention of making a comeback.

Gillick met him in Houston last month, and, satisfied that Gruber is healthy, he's giving the former Blue Jay another shot. If Gruber makes the team, he'll get some playing time in the outfield and at designated hitter, and he'll back up Cal Ripken at third base.

"He's excited," said Randy Hendricks, Gruber's agent. "We're also reserved and realistic. Say if he really doesn't show a re-emergence right away -- in June, if he's not making progress, he'll go play in the minors. This is worth a shot."

Gruber could earn up to $850,000 more in incentives. Incaviglia, 33, who hit 18 homers for the Phillies and Orioles last year and was kept for his positive clubhouse influence as much as his power, could earn $300,000 more in incentives.

Incaviglia was added to the 40-man roster, and to make room for him, the Orioles designated pitcher Billy Percibal for assignment. They won't tender him a contract today and Percibal, a top

pitching prospect coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery, will become a free agent -- technically.

By prior agreement, Percibal will re-sign with the Orioles on Monday.

O's projected lineup, roster

Batting order:

CF Brady Anderson

LF Eric Davis

2B Roberto Alomar

1B Rafael Palmeiro

3B Cal Ripken

RF B. J. Surhoff

DH Pete Incaviglia

C Chris Hoiles

SS Mike Bordick


C Lenny Webster

OF Jerome Walton

OF Kelly Gruber, Tony Tarasco or Jeffrey Hammonds

Utility infielder (2B, SS) to be acquired

Starting pitchers:

Mike Mussina (R)

Jimmy Key (L)

Scott Erickson (R)

Rocky Coppinger (R)

Shawn Boskie (R)

Relief pitchers:

Randy Myers (L)

Jesse Orosco (L)

Arthur Rhodes (L)

Armando Benitez (R)

Alan Mills (R)

Terry Mathews (R)

Mike Johnson (R)

Pub Date: 12/20/96


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