Davis is richest Oriole: one-year at $3.275 million.

February 13, 1991|By Peter Schmuck

First baseman Glenn Davis became the highest-paid player in Baltimore Orioles history yesterday, when the club signed him to a one-year contract worth $3.275 million plus incentives.

Davis, who was acquired a month ago from the Houston Astros, was scheduled for a salary arbitration hearing tomorrow and a record arbitration award whether he won or lost the case, but he agreed to split the difference between his $3.65 million demand and the Orioles' $2.9 million arbitration figure.

Orioles president Larry Lucchino said in January that he hoped to avert a contentious arbitration battle so that the business relationship between the club and Davis could get off to an amiable start. That was accomplished, but at a price nearly $1 million higher than Orioles mainstay Cal Ripken will earn in 1991.

"I think it [a hearing] is something you like to avoid if you can in general," Lucchino said. "It's a little bit more of an issue when you're dealing with a first encounter with a player.

It's better to be amicable and not adversarial."

Not long after the agreement was announced, agent Michael Moye said that he and Orioles officials soon would begin discussing a multiyear contract. Davis can become a free agent at the end of the 1991 season if he does not come to terms.

"We're going to explore the possibility of a long-term contract," Moye said from his Houston office. "We'll probably begin exploring that during spring training."

Lucchino and Orioles general manager Roland Hemond refused to comment on any future negotiations, but seemed pleased that the club was able to keep a string of 13 arbitration-less winters alive. The Orioles have not been involved in a hearing since infielder Billy Smith went to arbitration in 1978, but still face a possible showdown next Wednesday with newly acquired pitcher Jeff Robinson.

"Arbitration is a process that is part of the collective-bargaining agreement," Hemond said, "but, historically, the Orioles have not been an organization to go to a hearing very often. You're not averse to going, but it's nicer and better if you don't have to go."

Davis earned $1.985 million in 1990 and would have gotten close to a $1 million raise even if he had lost in arbitration. He missed nearly half of last season with a rib-cage injury, so the club appeared to have an excellent chance to win -- if forcing someone to settle for nearly $3 million can be considered a victory. But if the Orioles hold out any hope of convincing him to remain in Baltimore after the 1991 season, paying a few hundred thousand dollars more could turn out to be a sound investment.

"This is great for me ,"he said. "It allows me to have a better environment.This is the happiest I've ever been with a contract because of the way the Orioles dealt with me."

Moye seemed unconcerned about the effect a hearing might have had on future negotiations. If Davis bounces back from the rib-cage strain to produce this year the way he did in the four seasons before 1990 (he averaged 31 home runs and 96 RBI), he could be the most popular player in next year's free-agent market.

"We simply wanted an equitable settlement," Moye said. "We're pleased that we've achieved that result. I believe the Orioles are also pleased to reach that result."

The price was high by any standard. The salary makes Davis the 35th major-league player to sign for an annual salary of $3 million or more. The contract also calls for incentive bonuses if Davis wins any postseason awards.

But the 1991 salary is just part of the equation. Davis also cost the Orioles three promising players -- Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling -- and could command a tremendous package to bypass free agency at the end of the season.

First things first. The Orioles are hoping that Davis will make them a strong contender in 1991, which would make the trade a good one even if he stays around for only one season.

"We're pleased to reach an agreement," Lucchino said. "He's new to the organization, and this will enable us to focus on the season ahead without this interference."

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