Unclaimed Candy still leaves sour taste in Orioles' mouths

Ken Rosenthal

October 15, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

TORONTO -- One of these days, the Orioles will escape the horror of the Glenn Davis trade. But the fallout continues, nearly two years after the fact, during a postseason in which they're not even involved.

It's bad enough knowing the trade cost the Orioles outfielder Steve Finley and pitchers Curt Schilling and Pete Harnisch. It's even worse knowing it convinced them to drop their pursuit of outfielder Candy Maldonado.

Maldonado, then a free agent, wound up with Milwaukee, then Toronto. Now he's a postseason hero, thanks to the three-run homer that broke open the Blue Jays' 9-2 victory over Oakland yesterday, helping bring the World Series to Canada.

Two years ago, he drove in 95 runs for Cleveland, yet couldn't find a job. Maldonado practically begged to sign with the Orioles, but the club spent more money on another free agent -- Dwight Evans -- then made the ill-fated trade for Davis.

"He didn't fit into our plans quite as much after that," assistant general manager Doug Melvin said. "When it looked like we were going to get Davis, we backed off on Maldonado. If we didn't acquire Davis, that would have been an alternative."

Some alternative: Maldonado drove in 66 runs this season, only 10 fewer than Davis' two-year total as an Oriole. Yet at the time, the club had a surplus of right-handed hitters. It wanted to move Randy Milligan to left field. There was no room for Maldonado.

The trade, of course, appeared a stroke of genius initially, for the Orioles were desperate to add power. But the more this unfortunate saga unfolds, the more twisted the club's logic appears -- and not simply because Davis keeps getting hurt.

The Milligan experiment proved a disaster, leaving the Orioles with returning outfielders Joe Orsulak (57 RBI in '90), Mike Devereaux (49) and Brady Anderson (24). Evans became part of the mix, but Chito Martinez cut into his playing time later.

Where the Orioles really blew it was signing Evans over Maldonado. Evans, then 39, was coming off a 13-homer, 63-RBI season. Maldonado had produced better numbers (22 HRs, 95 RBI), was nine years younger and came cheaper. Evans earned $1.16 million in '91, Maldonado $875,000.

There's no rationalizing the blunder, but player evaluation is an inexact science. Think the Blue Jays' Mike Sharperson-for-Juan Guzman trade was brilliant? As recently as 1990, they failed to protect Guzman on their 40-man roster, exposing him to the Rule V draft.

Maldonado, meanwhile, almost got released last spring, so infatuated were the Jays with Rob Ducey and Derek Bell. But he clung to his roster spot, earned the confidence of manager Cito Gaston and batted .272 with 20 homers and 66 RBI.

He was 0-for-6 after the first two games of this series, 8-for-68 (.118) without a homer in his postseason career. But he hit an RBI single and solo homer to spark the Jays' 7-5 victory in Game 3, then the three-run homer that turned a 3-0 game into a rout yesterday.

In fairness, the Orioles are one of three AL East clubs cringing over the October performance of Maldonado. Cleveland declined even offer him salary arbitration in '90. And Milwaukee sent him to Toronto for two minor-leaguers on Aug. 9, 1991.

Maldonado never actually signed a free-agent contract; he joined the Brewers by accepting a non-roster invitation to spring training. He beat out Greg Vaughn for the left-field job, then broke his foot in the second game and missed 3 1/2 months.

Even so, he finished with more RBI than Evans (48-38), combining his totals from Milwaukee and Toronto. Evans, of course, retired after getting released by the Orioles last spring. Maldonado moved into the Toronto lineup after Bell broke his hand in -- how's this for symmetry? -- the second game.

Bell, the player who beat Luis Mercedes for the 1991 International League batting title, later reclaimed his job, only to lose it again to Maldonado. Gaston was criticized for going with the veteran, but obviously he made the right call.

"Cito had faith," champagne-drenched Maldonado said in the post-game clubhouse yesterday. "There were a lot of people writing me off, a lot of people asking why I kept playing, a lot of people saying I didn't belong here. That's why this is special."

Maldonado didn't want to talk about his previous frustration as an unwanted free agent, and who could blame him? Baseball is 6 6TC game of here and now. The Orioles are stuck with an injury-prone Glenn Davis. The Blue Jays are American League champions with Candy Maldonado.

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