It's doubtful the Orioles will have a Mercedes in their immediate future, and it's possible their long-range plans could be jeopardized.
If so, it will be in spite of a strong defense by David Segui, who eloquently pleads the case for an ex-teammate and close friend.
Luis Mercedes, 23, has been suspended for the rest of the season and fined $300 by International League president Randy Mobley following a brawl he was deemed to have instigated Saturday night in a game against Syracuse. The action, which also includes post-season play, does not preclude the Orioles from promoting Mercedes from their Triple-A Rochester farm team, but it is unlikely they will do so because of the circumstances.
"We just got the league president's decision this afternoon [yesterday]," said Orioles general manager Roland Hemond. "We'll have some discussions on the matter and review it further."
Hemond wouldn't speculate on whether this latest incident would affect the Orioles' plans to look at Mercedes during the final month of the season. This is the second suspension of the year for Mercedes, the first being handed out by the Rochester club after a disagreement that reportedly revolved around contract matters.
Mercedes, who has won more batting titles than altercations, is no stranger to the kind of incident that most likely finished his season three days ago. He has been involved in several fights, both with the opposition and his own teammates, in each of the last three years.
The talented but erratic and controversial outfielder led the Single-A Carolina League in hitting with a .309 average at Frederick two years ago and the Double-A Eastern League with a .334 mark last season. Along the way, he was also involved in more than his share of skirmishes.
This year Mercedes, who was 3-for-4 in his last game, was second in the International League with a .334 average and is still in a position to win a third straight batting crown. His on- and off-field problems, however, have continued to be as consistent as his average.
In their continuing quest for a true leadoff hitter, the Orioles had planned on a last month trial for Mercedes at the conclusion of the Rochester season. He may now have to wait until spring training.
At the moment, the best thing Mercedes has going for him is his healthy batting average. His reputation has preceded him at each level of the minor leagues -- and is already well known at the major league level.
Nobody disputes that he has the physical talent to play in the big leagues, but just about everybody questions whether he'll last long enough to make it. One of his biggest problems is avoiding trouble in his own clubhouse, the area of greatest concern for the Orioles.
Yet, it is one of his former teammates, Segui, who is Mercedes' staunchest supporter. The Orioles' first baseman-outfielder, who is as mild-mannered as Mercedes is volatile, is a willing, eager defender.
"He is my best friend," said Segui, who has played with Mercedes for at least part of the last three seasons. "He has had some problems. . .but I saw a big change in his attitude after the incident in Frederick two years ago [when Mercedes was beaten up by some of his teammates]."
That incident, according to Segui, stemmed from an argument during a bus ride after a losing game. Among other things, the losing pitcher called Mercedes "a dumb Dominican," and said, "I'll get you."
A few days later, in the confines of an elevator in a Durham, N.C. hotel, the pitcher and three of his friends reportedly made good on the promise.
"I saw two completely different guys in the course of hours," said Segui. "Before, he was real quiet and minded his own business. He lets his temper get hold of him now. It's hard for him; it's a different culture."
Still, Segui sees a side to Mercedes others don't recognize: "He's really intelligent -- he learned English in about a year. He's one of the most intelligent people I know."
Mercedes is one of many players who hail from the Dominican Republic town of San Pedro de Macoris, sometimes referred to as the "shortstop capital of the world." He was signed by the Orioles as a mid-infielder in 1987, but was shifted from second base to the outfield a year ago. His tools are his bat, legs, arm -- and extreme confidence.
"There's no doubt he can play," said Segui. "I don't have a problem with his attitude, but there are a lot of guys who are jealous of him because of his ability. . .and a lot of guys are intimidated by him.
"He doesn't take any B.S. from anybody. A lot of people don't like that. He's not going to kiss anybody's butt, and a lot of people don't like that either.
"He had some off-field problems with the front office that he reacted to in the wrong way. He was mad about it.
"I don't want to say the organization was dragging its feet, but he felt they were going too slow. He held it in. . . held it in. . . then he just let it all come out."
Segui and Mercedes opened the season together in Rochester, the third straight year they started with the same team. They are in constant contact, but haven't spoken since Saturday night's confrontation, which reportedly climaxed when Mercedes threw his helmet into the face of the Syracuse third baseman following a verbal exchange as he was leaving the field after a forceout at second base.
The two will talk today, and Segui no doubt will have some words of advice and solace for his friend. They no doubt will be the most comforting words the troubled outfielder will hear this week.
Luis Mercedes is a talent at the crossroads of either a promising, or forgotten, career. David Segui, a friend who doesn't have a lot of company, may be the only person who can tell him the difference.