Baseball's free agents officially became fair game today, which could put the Orioles into a bidding contest for Glenn Davis.
The first baseman, who was injured and missed most of last year after being obtained in a trade from Houston, was believed to be close to a one-year agreement with the Orioles. But speculation about his immediate future will continue until the deal is done.
In maintaining their club policy, the Orioles have not commented on Davis' situation, other than to admit they'd like to have him back, along with veteran outfielder Dwight Evans. Davis is represented by Robert Fraley and Associates in Tampa, Fla., and repeated calls to that office have gone unanswered.
Davis, who has been in Baltimore since returning from a trip to Israel last week, is scheduled to go to Columbus, Ga., this week. He will participate in activities in conjunction with the opening of the children's home he and his wife Teresa have established there.
Because of his limited playing time last year, and the $3.275 million salary he earned as a compromise to an arbitration hearing, there is some question about how much interest Davis might command on the open market. He has indicated a satisfaction with the Orioles and the city and a desire to return next year.
It is believed the two sides have restricted negotiations to one year, which would enable Davis to retain his free-agent rights next year. The delay in reaching an agreement is probably to weigh the one-year proposal against any potential multi-year offers.
Yesterday was the last day for players to exercise their right to declare for free agency and 92 did so. Until the 15-day filing period closed, players were allowed to negotiate only with their last employer. Contact with other clubs was restricted to general terms -- such as positions, length of contract or whether a player had interest in a specific team.
Until they resolve the Davis situation, the Orioles are likely to be more observers than participants in the free-agent marketplace. In any case, they will be more interested bidders than lavish speculators.
In addition to keeping Davis, and trying to plug a few holes on their roster, the Orioles will be mindful of the impact on their overall payroll. Looming in the background are upcoming negotiations with shortstop Cal Ripken, who could become a free agent after next season.
Signing Ripken to a multi-year contract will be the top priority, because if the Orioles can't keep Ripken home anything they might do in the free-agent market will lose significance.
Although this year's list of free agents doesn't have the glitter of some in the past, this is expected to be an active winter.
While some of the top names, such as Bobby Bonilla or Danny Tartabull, would fit nicely into their lineup, the Orioles most likely will confine their efforts to the middle of the pack. General manager Roland Hemond would not comment on the team's plans, other than to admit he's had contact with some agents.
"Today is the first day that you can actually talk specifics," said Hemond. "All I can say is that we have talked to some [player] representatives."
Reportedly the Orioles are interested in Juan Samuel, a second baseman who had a great first half before fading with the Dodgers last year. Although he strikes out a lot, he would provide manager John Oates with an alternative to Mike Devereaux as the leadoff hitter.
Should the Orioles pursue Samuel aggressively, it would substantiate rumors they are considering trading Bill Ripken.
The Orioles' biggest need, however, is to find a pitcher capable of stepping into the rotation and pitching 200-plus innings. Most of those who might fit in that category will be a gamble, but there are some interesting names out there.
Among those who might draw some interest are: ex-Oriole Mike Morgan and Orel Hershiser (Dodgers), Bob Walk (Pirates), Ron Darling (A's) and Kirk McCaskill (Angels), all righthanders. Jim Deshaies (Astros), Joe Hesketh (Red Sox), Bill Krueger (Mariners), Bob Kipper (Pirates) and Atlee Hammaker and Dennis Rasmussen (Padres) are lefthanded possibilities.
The Orioles don't figure to be in the ballpark with people like Bonilla, Tartabull, Mets lefthander Frank Viola and possibly even Samuel. A few of the others are also likely to get priced out of an acceptable bracket, but it would be surprising if the Orioles don't find a pitcher in the bunch on whom they are willing to gamble.