Davis is O so happy to be back Righthander says rejoining original team 'is going to put a bounce in my step'

December 12, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Evening Sun Staff

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 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.

"I wore that [Orioles] uniform with pride, and I put it back on with pride," Davis said. "To step on the field again with Cal Ripken and all the guys is going to put a bounce in my step."

The deal also came as very 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. They shared the same house. Now they will finally play on the same major-league team.

"This is what we've been waiting for," Glenn Davis said. "We've been talking about this forever. In one way it's real and in another it's not. . . . This is definitely one of the most wonderful times of my life."

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, who turns 30 Dec. 26, 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 after a 19-win season in 1989, and Hemond confirmed that the Orioles 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 spring training as the top four candidates, with rookie Arthur Rhodes a long shot 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 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 -- as evidenced minutes earlier by a five-player deal that sent two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen to the New York Mets. But he praised Davis and predicted he would help the Orioles return to respectability.

"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, 30, after a season in which he batted .250 in a diminishing role. He was not surprised, saying this week he could tell late last season he was no longer in the club's plans.

The trade provided a major mood swing for Hemond, who had expressed 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.

The Dodgers acquired first baseman Todd Benzinger from the 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 general manager Dan Duquette.

That's apparently what he told Hemond 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."

They also have exhausted their immediate possibilities. Hemond confirmed that the trade talks involving Milligan were focused almost entirely on the Dodgers and Expos, so it may take some time for substantive talks to develop with any new clubs.

Hemond confirmed that the club is getting low-balled by other teams because there is the perception that Milligan will not have a place in the Orioles' lineup next year. That, he says, is not necessarily true.

The re-signing of Glenn Davis may have displaced Milligan at first base, but there still is a significant role for him on the club.

"Sure, by all means," Hemond said. "You have a designated hitter rule, too. You also have bench strength, pinch hitters, role players. He's a productive player who can hit."

Still, the Orioles seem likely to keep trying to trade Milligan, who probably would be more valuable to a club that can give him full-time work at first base.

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