Who's on first in '94? Orioles hope that Segui is the answer

KEN ROSENTHAL

November 15, 1992|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Let's get right down to it.

What if David Segui can't play?

The Orioles obviously feared he'd be selected in Tuesday's expansion draft. Otherwise, they wouldn't have bothered persuading Glenn Davis to waive his no-trade clause to clear another spot on their 15-man protected list.

The Colts will return to Baltimore before Davis gets drafted, but that's not the issue here. Segui, 26, is 4 1/2 years younger than Randy Milligan, a switch-hitter and the club's best defensive first baseman. He's also a player who has hit only 22 home runs in nearly 1,600 professional at-bats.

If nothing else, the Orioles wanted to keep him so they wouldn't need to acquire a late-inning defensive replacement at first base. LTC They place such emphasis on defense, they rightly fear Milligan or Davis pulling a nightly Bill Buckner.

The question is, can Segui hit? The Orioles point to his .336 average at Rochester in 1990 as proof of what he can accomplish playing every day. But let's say they lose Milligan, and Segui proves a bust.

Who plays first in 1994?

Not Davis, whose contract expires after next season. Not Mel Wearing, who drove in 91 runs at Double-A and Triple-A, but projects strictly as a DH. And not Paul Carey, who has regressed offensively, and is now refining his first-base skills in the Florida Instructional League.

Include Segui and Milligan in this worst-case scenario, and the Orioles could knock five first basemen off their depth chart in less than a year. Sounds unnerving, but the amazing part is, they still wouldn't have a void.

You see, if all goes as planned, 1994 will be the year Manny Alexander replaces Cal Ripken at shortstop. The Orioles can then move either Ripken or third baseman Leo Gomez to first, but more on that later.

Milligan is the other element in this bizarre equation. If he doesn't get drafted, the Orioles will try to trade him. And if they can't trade him, they'll either keep him as Davis' Band-Aid or -- gulp -- release him.

Don't rule out the latter.

Milligan earned $1.05 million last season. The most the Orioles can cut his salary is 20 percent. If the club is truly serious about committing to Segui, why not make Milligan a free agent and try to re-sign him for even less?

You watch: That will be the trend this off-season with fringe players eligible for arbitration. Milligan's 1993 salary probably will be under the major-league average. Still, Segui earned $900,000 less last season, and the Orioles are convinced he can drive in as many runs.

A deal makes sense -- just as it did last winter. Problem is, Milligan couldn't be traded coming off a 70-RBI season, so how is he going to get traded off a 53-RBI season? The Orioles' best shot will come once the expansion dust settles, and clubs start losing free agents.

Here's a thought: Milligan to the New York Mets. Such a deal would reunite the Moose with hitting coach Tom McCraw. It also would return him to the club that made him its first-round draft pick in 1981. The only flaw in the theory is that it presumes the unprotected Eddie Murray will get drafted.

Of course, the danger in losing Milligan is the likelihood of Davis spending another season in the whirlpool. But here's the solution: Take Milligan's salary, combine it with Sam Horn's, and use the $1.7 million to sign a free-agent right fielder like Andre Dawson or, if it can be done, Mel Hall.

As it stands, right field will be shared by Chito Martinez and Luis Mercedes, two players who combined for 248 major-league at-bats last season. The Orioles still could re-sign Joe Orsulak, but what's the point? They need more power -- and they no longer can waste a roster spot on the one-dimensional Horn.

So, you keep Segui and Davis, you keep Martinez and Mercedes, and you use the free-agent slugger as a right fielder or DH. Martinezhit 33 homers between Rochester and Baltimore in 1990. Mercedes made the 15-man protected list. The Orioles need to find out about both, along with Segui.

It's a simple retooling, that's all. And if Segui doesn't work out, there's always Ripken or Gomez in '94. The preference is Gomez, who has played first base in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Ripken's hands and reactions are too good to waste at first.

Then again, the entire picture will change if both Segui and Alexander prove quality major-leaguers. Do you then trade Gomez? Or do you make him a DH? The Orioles would welcome that decision, but it's a funny game. Suddenly, so much hinges on a simple question:

Can David Segui play?

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