'Fragile, don't touch' sign is Birds' best Davis hope

Ken Rosenthal

August 30, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

What if nobody wants Glenn Davis?

Crazy as it sounds, that's the Orioles' dream scenario. First Davis fails to receive a significant offer on the open market. Then he re-signs for one year to retain his free agency.

The strategy worked last winter with Mickey Tettleton, a player the Orioles stared down in negotiations, only to lose the upper hand by making a poor trade for Detroit pitcher Jeff Robinson.

It might not work with Davis.

Not that this is a lost cause. There is every indication the Orioles are preparing a serious offer to Davis, perhaps even beyond one year. The question is if they will read the market as well as they did with Tettleton last winter.

They'd better.

Their investment in Davis is already $3.275 million, plus the three players they traded to Houston -- All-Star pitcher Pete Harnisch, gifted outfielder Steve Finley and struggling reliever Curt Schilling.

Unfortunately, these things are tricky. Tettleton failed to land a multi-year contract despite a shortage of catchers. Davis, on the other hand, might succeed despite a surplus of first basemen.

In fact, he might succeed even after missing four months with his rare neck injury, and even though three other first basemen -- Wally Joyner, Pedro Guerrero and Eddie Murray -- can be free agents.

"Of that group, I believe he probably would be the most attractive," said one American League general manager who requested anonymity. "If he comes back and plays well in September, he will find there's quite a market for him."

Davis, 30, is batting .194 with one homer and six RBIs in 31 at-bats since returning to the lineup Aug. 19. Statistics aside, he appears perfectly sound. His five-RBI night in his second game back offered a glimpse of what might have been, and what could be.

Here's the catch: The Orioles will pay Davis his $3.275 million for playing no more than 56 games, and they can't sign him for less than $2.62 million because the maximum pay cut is 20 percent.

What's more, as much as the club's top baseball executives want him back, it's difficult to imagine budget-conscious owner Eli Jacobs guaranteeing him, say, $12 million for three years.

That, of course, is an outlandish figure, especially considering that Davis also played only 93 games last year because of a rib cage injury. But in baseball, all it takes is one crazy team to make a preposterous salary figure the new standard.

Just this week, the New York Yankees gave No. 1 draft choice Brien Taylor $1.55 million -- and Taylor has yet to face a hitter above the high-school level, much less one in the major leagues.

For the Orioles, the bad news is that Davis could draw attention from clubs willing to spend enormous sums, most notably California (if it loses Joyner) and Los Angeles (if it loses Murray). Joyner, 29, is six years younger than Murray and Guerrero. One rumor has him going to Oakland for the fading Mark McGwire. Another has him replacing Guerrero in St. Louis.

Whatever, a certain amount of shuffling is inevitable, which is why it would be foolish for Davis not to test the market. The Chicago White Sox need a cleanup hitter. So does Philadelphia. The New York Mets could change first basemen. So could Pittsburgh and Montreal.

Scary, isn't it?

Yes, but Tettleton appeared to be in just as commanding a position last winter, especially after catcher Darren Daulton re-signed with Philadelphia for $6.75 million over three years. For reasons that still aren't clear, Tettleton attracted virtually no interest as a free agent. Now he has 25 homers for Detroit.

Davis, of course, has a superior track record -- he averaged 27 homers and 85 RBIs the previous six seasons, while Tettleton averaged 21 homers and 58 RBIs the previous two. The critical question is, does Davis' recent medical history take precedence over his earlier performance?

"There's always a place for a guy who can hit the ball out of the park," said Joyner's agent, Barry Axelrod. "But if I were a team looking at Glenn Davis, I'd have to be leery.

"Rick Sutcliffe is a client of mine. He's a former Cy Young winner, but he has been hurt for a year and a half. People thought he was done, just like Glenn Davis. But all of a sudden here comes Rick with four outstanding performances in his last four games.

"He's a free agent. I would doubt his market value would be as great as it would have been. I don't know what Davis will be looking for. But how do you sign him for three years at $3 million knowing he has a proclivity to injury? How do you sign Rick Sutcliffe knowing he's had shoulder surgery and been out of commission most of the last two years?"

Thus, the dream scenario -- Davis finds no takers, then re-signs for one year at approximately $3 million, with incentives based on how often he plays.

Surely clubs will want Glenn Davis.

Won't they?

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