MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Storm Davis is coming back to Baltimore.
He is coming back to where he started his major-league career. He is coming back to solidify the Baltimore Orioles' starting rotation. He is coming back to make a family dream come true.
The Orioles, who traded Davis to the San Diego Padres in 1986, traded reserve catcher Bob Melvin to the Kansas City Royals to reacquire him on the final night of baseball's annual winter meetings.
This has to be good news to Orioles first baseman Glenn Davis, who has been like a brother to Storm since both were playing high school football and baseball at University Christian High School in Jacksonville, Fla.
It also was a sudden turn of fortune for Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, who was in danger of being shut out at the winter trade convention after the Montreal Expos decided to pass on a long-discussed deal for first baseman Randy Milligan.
Davis is a gamble. He was 3-9 last year with a 4.96 ERA in 51 games,only nine of them starts. The Royals never really got a return on the large free agent contract he signed following a 19-win season in 1989, and Hemond confirmed that they absorbed a significant percentage of his $2.3 million salary for 1992 to complete the deal.
"We're just happy to bring Storm back to Baltimore as a candidate for our starting rotation," Hemond said. "He's a capable pitcher. Our scouts saw him last year and said he threw well. He had some good stretches."
The Orioles apparently remain in the market for a free agent starter, even though Davis gives them five viable candidates for the rotation. Bob Milacki, Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald and Jose Mesa figured to arrive at training as the top four candidates, with rookie Arthur Rhodes a longshot to be the fifth starter.
"We have five candidates already," Hemond said, "but you want to be as deep as you can."
Now, the Orioles won't have to rush Rhodes, and they are one free agent pitcher away from a very solid five-man starting staff. That was a priority after the club fell behind by three runs or more in the first three innings in 43 games last year.
Royals general manager Herk Robinson is in the midst of a massive restructuring program, but he praised Davis and predicted that he would help the Orioles return to respectability 1992.
"I think going back to Baltimore means a great deal to him," Robinson said. "He's a very capable pitcher and I think he'll win a lot of games for the Orioles next year."
The Orioles apparently were eager to trade Melvin after a season in which he batted .250 in a diminishing role. He was not surprised, saying earlier this week that he could tell late last season that he was no longer in the club's plans.
The trade provided a major mood swing for Hemond, who expressed disappointment and dismay after trade talks involving Milligan and the Expos broke down earlier in the day.
Hemond appeared to be angry at yesterday afternoon's press briefing, but he would say only that he was frustrated that weeks of trade talks with the Expos had run aground -- and not from lack of serious intent on the part of the Orioles.
The Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers were the two teams most interested in acquiring Milligan, but both moved in other directions at baseball's annual trading convention.
The Dodgers acquired first baseman Todd Benzinger from the Kansas City Royals yesterday, so they no longer need help at that position. The Expos made their second deal for pitching help in the last two weeks, following up a November trade for Ken Hill by acquiring John Wetteland and Bill Risley from the Cincinnati Reds, but indicated afterward that they were no longer in hot pursuit of a first baseman.
"We've got internal options, and there are several first basemen available if we decide to go outside," said Expos GM Dan Duquette.
That's apparently what he told Hemond just minutes before yesterday's press briefing. The Orioles were under the impression that the Expos were adding pitching depth to facilitate the trade that had been discussed, only to find that they had lost interest in Milligan along the way.
"They indicated that if they got an additional pitcher . . . they got Hill and Wetteland . . . it's sort of confusing," said Hemond, obviously weary from days of intense trade talks. "They have exhausted our patience."