Frank Robinson counts the Orioles among the AL East teams that have improved during the winter, but admits the biggest question mark is the same as it was on the last day of the 1990 season.
"I'm no more concerned now than I was at the end of last season," said Robinson, in town for a series of meetings and personal appearances. "Improving the offense is still our primary goal. I think we've strengthened ourselves with the addition of Dwight Evans -- and we'll try to improve even more before the season starts."
Robinson was talking in generalities when he made the statement, but it naturally led to the hottest topic of trade gossip -- Glenn Davis. Although speaking guardedly, Robinson couldn't hide that the possibility of acquiring the slugging Houston first baseman was intriguing.
"There's not much you can say, especially about somebody else's player," said Robinson, "but when his name comes up you get excited. He definitely would be a tremendous addition to our lineup. There aren't many power hitters around who are better than him."
Robinson is an avowed proponent of the "stay the course" approach the Orioles have espoused the last two years. And he is hesitant to mortgage the future to acquire one player, especially one who could become a free agent after next year.
However, Robinson said he "wouldn't necessarily be opposed" to taking a gamble with Davis -- if the Orioles didn't have to overpay with young talent. "Sometimes a player can become convinced that he wants to be part of the team.
"You'd like to have him signed, but if you feel he can help and that you'd do everything you can to sign him to a long-term contract, then you'd have to think about it. The club would have to take all of that into consideration."
Robinson sees Houston's situation with Davis as similar, but not identical, to what the Orioles faced with Eddie Murray two years ago. "It's not the same, there aren't personalities involved," he said. "But it's not unlike the position we were in.
"I don't blame Houston for asking for what they're asking," said Robinson, intimating the price isn't right for the Orioles, at least not at the moment. "They're not in any hurry, and they don't have to trade him."
The Astros need to fortify a pitching staff depleted by free-agent defections, and are believed to have talked to the Orioles about Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling, Mark Williamson and highly touted minor-league prospect Arthur Rhodes. They would also need young players they could put into the lineup immediately, including a replacement for Davis at first base, and speculation there has centered on Steve Finley and Randy Milligan or David Segui.
From that group, Houston reportedly wants four players. The Orioles think the number and the names are too much to pay, but have let the Astros know they would like to continue their talks.