Milligan both coming, going with Orioles

Ken Rosenthal

February 06, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

For this week's installment of "What's Going On Here?" we return to the saga of Randy Milligan, the first baseman the Orioles want to trade, but would gladly keep.

Confused?

Join the club.

"One day it sounds like I'm out of here," Milligan said Tuesday. "The next day it sounds like I'm part of the team."

The mixed signals result from the Orioles' growing realization that they might be unable to trade Milligan by Opening Day, creating an unwieldy logjam at first base and DH.

Club officials insist the situation is manageable, yet they would trade Milligan in a heartbeat, if only they could get equal value in return.

The issue boils down to this: Milligan is too good a player to dump in an ill-conceived deal, and too good a player to bury if he remains with the club.

What's going on here?

The usual wait and see.

Still, the Orioles' inclination to part with Milligan seems clear, judging by the way they're handling his salary arbitration.

The Orioles haven't gone to a hearing since winning a decision over Billy Smith in 1978. But they're firmly headed in that direction with Milligan.

"I wouldn't deny that for a minute," said Milligan's agent, Mike Powers. "It's looking more and more that way."

Milligan asked for $1.4 million. The Orioles offered $900,000. Powers said Tuesday he had not spoken with club officials since the salary figures were released Jan. 17.

The Orioles believe Milligan's request is exorbitant; he declined from one RBI per 6.0 at-bats in 1990 to one per 6.9 in 1991. But if not for Glenn Davis, they surely would be more amiable.

Now, with Milligan's future in question, the club can play hardball. So what if Milligan gets upset? He might be reduced to a part-time DH. He might be traded tomorrow.

Milligan, 30, earned $330,000 last season, a salary determined by the club. He changed agents after the Orioles renewed his contract at a figure below their final offer.

Again, Davis was the common denominator. His arrival 13 months ago made Milligan expendable. But a trade didn't seem as urgent then as it does now.

At the time, Sam Horn was a question, David Segui was a rookie and Milligan was nothing more than a one-year wonder coming off a separated left shoulder.

Now each is established, and Davis is healthy, forcing the issue once and for all. But, as the Orioles found at the winter meetings, trading a first baseman isn't so easy.

The market right now consists of one team (Montreal) and possibly another (California). Neither appears especially anxious to acquire Milligan.

In Montreal, Expos general manager Dan Duquette still views Milligan as a "first-base option," but claims the Orioles want established pitching in return.

An Orioles official, however, indicated the club probably would settle for second-year righthander Mel Rojas, whom the official described as a "righthanded Arthur Rhodes."

Rojas, 25, held opponents to a .228 batting average while finishing 3-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 37 relief appearances for Montreal. The Orioles probably would try him as a starter.

Problem is, the Expos can sign free agent Alvin Davis for less money than Milligan. Or they can shift Ivan Calderon to first now that they've signed former Orioles outfielder Phil Bradley to a minor-league contract.

As for California, first-base prospect Lee Stevens still hasn't recovered from a sprained right wrist he suffered last September. The Angels are interested in Davis, and possibly a trade for Philadelphia's Ricky Jordan.

Milligan's RBI totals increased from 45 to 60 to 70 the past three years, Jordan's went from 75 to 44 to 49. But the Angels are intent on giving Stevens 400 at-bats, and with other first basemen in their system, they might only want a stopgap.

Granted, things change rapidly in this game. Oakland reportedly wants a first baseman to push Mark McGwire. Los Angeles could sour on Todd Benzinger. The injury to Glenn Davis changed the Orioles' equation last season. The same thing could happen to another team.

Orioles GM Roland Hemond points to Toronto (Dave Winfield, John Olerud, Candy Maldonado) and Boston (Carlos Quintana, Mo Vaughn, Jack Clark) as teams with similar surpluses but fewer concerns at first base and DH.

Indeed, the added depth isn't necessarily a liability, not with Milligan such a slow starter, not with Horn such a streaky hitter. Segui can play the outfield. Dwight Evans can pinch-hit. And manager John Oates is protected if Davis isn't 100 percent.

That's the ideal scenario, and it works only if the club is winning, in which case everyone is happy.

As it stands, Milligan probably would open the season as the regular DH, making Horn a $687,500 pinch hitter in a ballpark expected to favor his lefthanded power. Meanwhile, Segui could be pushed farther back while former Rochester teammates Chris Hoiles and Leo Gomez become regulars.

What's going on here?

The question won't go away.

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