Orioles generate HR power with trade for Davis Hemond, Tigers talk about Tettleton

January 11, 1991|By Peter Schmuck Kent Baker of The Sun's sports staff contributed to this article.

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."

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