Low-balling Orioles now a rite of winter

KEN ROSENTHAL

December 10, 1991|By KEN ROSENTHAL

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Attention, Randy Milligan: Don't start learning French. Don't start crooning, "I Love L.A." The Orioles aren't trading you to Montreal or Los Angeles. The way things are going, they aren't trading you anywhere just yet.

In what is becoming an annual ritual at the winter meetings, rival clubs are mocking the Orioles with low-ball trade offers. It happens when you lose 95 games. And it happens when everyone knows you're desperate to deal a Randy Milligan.

Manager John Oates understands all this, but midway through a second day of fruitless talks, he could not contain his frustration. He repeated he has no objection to Milligan's remaining an Oriole. Then, he insisted the club won't simply give him away.

Drum roll, please.

Heee-rrre's Johnny:

"People are trying to take advantage of us," Oates said. "Everyone in baseball says, 'They signed [Glenn] Davis, they've got Sam Horn, they've got David Segui. We can get Milligan for nothing. We'll give them a bunch of trash for him.'

"For what we're being offered right now, I'll guarantee you Randy Milligan's going nowhere. In spring training, our needs might change. But, right now, they're taking for granted that we don't want him on our ballclub.

"They're offering us part-time players, minor-league players, No. 6 and 7 pitchers on their major-league rosters. Just because we have three other guys to play first, we're not going to give Randy away for nothing.

"It's insulting. I'm not going to mention some of the names that have been offered. I don't know most of them. But Randy is much more valuable to us than what we're being offered.

"The neat part is, I've got an ace in the hole. Opening Day, I can still have him in my lineup. He can still play. He hasn't lost it yet."

Oates meant that sarcastically -- Milligan is only 30, and he batted .263 with 16 home runs and 70 RBI last season. He still figures to be traded because of the Orioles' logjam at first base and DH. But, for the moment, as one club official said, "He can unpack his bags."

General manager Roland Hemond met yesterday with four clubs -- Atlanta, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Oakland. He said none of the talks centered on Milligan, although Atlanta might show interest now that it has lost the Wally Joyner sweepstakes to Kansas City. Ditto for Joyner's old team, California.

No doubt Montreal and Los Angeles could re-enter the picture as well, but clubs are still sorting out various options, keeping the Orioles in limbo. Oates obviously is alarmed, but not every club official shares his concern.

Assistant GM Doug Melvin said: "When we left the meetings last year, I thought there was no way possible we'd get Davis." The Orioles completed their three-for-one deal with Houston approximately one month later, on Jan. 10.

BTC "It's all part of the game," Hemond said, shrugging. "Going through this over the years, I know people try to make the best deals possible. Later on, they come back to reality."

In other words, Milligan should keep his suitcases handy -- and he's not alone. Late Sunday night, Hemond thought he was close to a trade that would have sent catcher Bob Melvin and shortstop Juan Bell to Philadelphia for right-hander Andy Ashby and catcher Darrin Fletcher.

Alas, the deal fizzled. It's still debatable whether the Phillies would have traded Ashby, a top prospect who was 11-11 with a 3.46 ERA at Class AAA last season. But the Orioles clearly are willing to part with Melvin, even if it leaves Chris Hoiles and Jeff Tackett as their only catchers.

That still could happen.

But only through another trade.

The Phillies used an alternate route to acquire an Orioles catcher, selecting Todd Pratt in the Rule V draft. That doesn't necessarily curb their interest in Melvin, a proven major-league player. But last night they traded Fletcher to Montreal for reliver Barry Jones, spoiling the match.

The Orioles first expressed interest in Ashby last summer, and their failure to land him points out the roadblocks a club must clear to complete a trade. But things change rapidly, especially at the winter meetings. Yesterday's failure often leads to tomorrow's success.

Thus, Milligan is in the same tenuous position, because nothing has changed to create a spot for him along with Davis, Horn, Segui and Dwight Evans.

Oates can protest, "They're trying to hang us because they know we're heavy in that area."

But in an intensely competitive game, no one extends a helping hand.

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