Around the Horn First-base logjam may make lefty designated sitter

Ken Rosenthal

December 13, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- The best way to avoid gridlock is to take an alternate route. That didn't work for the Orioles, so now they're jamming the main highway all over again.

Unable to trade Randy Milligan, the traffic cops running this club are turning to Plan B. The odd man out no longer would be Milligan, but possibly his good friend Sam Horn.

A club official said Milligan likely will become the full-time designated hitter if he remains an Oriole, a strong possibility now that trade talks with Montreal have broken off.

Where does that leave Horn?

"On the bench," the club official explained Wednesday night. "You're not going to have Milligan trading off with Horn."

So that's that.

Or is it?

Manager John Oates said, "I don't plan on having a full-time DH," indicating he would use Milligan, Horn and Dwight Evans, among others.

Meanwhile, Milligan remains convinced he'll be traded. "I think I'm still on the block," he said from his Baltimore home. "I can't see them going in with the same team they ended the season with."

This is just beautiful.

Gridlock, Orioles style.

It makes no sense for Milligan to be part of a platoon system; he's too good an offensive player. So, with Davis playing first, the only way to keep him in the lineup is indeed as a full-time DH.

No, Milligan doesn't get it either.

"After last year's fiasco, that's better than going back to the outfield," he said. "But I don't see myself being the full-time DH, not on this team. We've got Sam Horn."

Sounds logical enough, but general manager Roland Hemond has exhausted his trade options for Milligan. At least for now, every other club appears set at first base.

The Expos? They plan to convert leftfielder Ivan Calderon or second baseman Bret Barberie -- unless, to further insult the Orioles, they trade pitching to Boston for Mo Vaughn.

Le Moose would come cheaper.

Les Expos should wake up.

"I've just been sitting back and waiting," Milligan said. "I didn't know what to think. I thought for sure I was gone. I was packing my bags."

Frankly, the only team that might still want him is California, but new GM Whitey Herzog already has said the unproven Lee Stevens will replace Wally Joyner at first base.

Hemond snapped, "He hasn't seen Lee Stevens," but that's just frustration talking. The suddenly fiery French-Canadian nearly got shut out at the winter meetings, but finally acquired Storm Davis for Bob Melvin late Wednesday night.

Hemond's inability to deal Milligan is simply the latest fallout from the star-crossed Glenn Davis trade, in which he parted with Pete Harnisch, Steve Finley and Curt Schilling.

What will happen next?

Harnisch and Finley enjoyed fine seasons, Davis missed 105 games with a rare neck injury and Milligan returned to first after the ill-conceived experiment in left.

Now Davis is signed for two years, Evans for one, non-guaranteed. The plan was for Davis to play first, David Segui to serve as his backup and Evans and Horn to platoon at DH.

But if Milligan's the DH, Evans and Horn are strictly reserves. The obvious move now would be to trade Horn, who hit 23 homers in 317 at-bats last season. But Hemond said clubs haven't shown much interest in such a one-dimensional player.

Why not start Milligan against lefties and Horn against righties? Because Milligan hits consistently from both sides. Besides, he wouldn't play very much. Last season, the Orioles faced a lefthander only once every four games.

Again, you don't platoon Randy Milligan. Problem is, Horn represents the Orioles' only lefthanded power, and he might be especially dangerous at the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The new stadium -- 318 feet down the rightfield line -- is expected to favor lefthanded hitters.

Informed he might return to a part-time role, Horn said from his home in Bessemer, Ala., "I'm not even going to worry about it. You've got to wait and see what happens. It's a long time between now and April."

Personally, Milligan does not object to being a DH -- "I can live with it," he said -- but realistically, he still expects to be traded. "I knew when they signed Glenn, they had a player expendable," he said. "That player was me."

And now?

"Ever since the season ended, I've been going through lineups, saying, 'How can I use all these guys?' " Oates said. "If we can take all the guys we had last year and improve our pitching, I'll take our chances right now.

"Randy Milligan is a special individual. Sam Horn is a special individual. I think both those guys like playing in Baltimore. I think I can sit down, talk to all of them -- Dwight, Randy, Sam -- and explain the situation. I don't expect them to be happy about it. But we can make it productive."

Have fun, John.

Gridlock, Orioles style.

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