Jacobs' frugality can't explain the Reynolds, Storm Davis moves

BASEBALL

December 27, 1992|By JIM HENNEMAN

It's probably convenient that Eli Bashing is the area's principal in-season sport these days. That way, even the most mysterious moves made by the Orioles can be lumped under the heading of economic frugality and attributed to soon-to-be ex-owner Eli Jacobs.

However, the most significant decisions that have been made for 1993 are related more to baseball than the bottom line, and should be evaluated as such.

One -- replacing Bill Ripken and Mark McLemore with Harold Reynolds at second base -- actually represents a $600,000 gamble on the part of the Orioles. Another -- the failure to re-sign Storm Davis -- appears to defy even economic logic.

When the Orioles traded backup catcher Bob Melvin to the Kansas City Royals for Davis a year ago, they did so for two reasons. They wanted a strong, veteran arm to provide depth and experience for a young staff. And they seemed eager to reacquire a pitcher whose best years had been in an Orioles uniform and who was eager to return to Baltimore for the rest of his career.

The Orioles thought Davis was a good enough gamble that they were willing to absorb a $1.2 million hit to their payroll. That was the difference between Melvin's salary ($900,000), the stipend the Royals sent along in the trade ($400,000) and Davis' earnings for the year ($2.5 million).

By every account, Davis' 7-3 record and 3.43 ERA were everything the Orioles had hoped for when they made the trade.

But the Orioles never re-entered the picture and Davis signed TC two-year contract with the Oakland Athletics for a total of $1.8 million -- almost $700,000 less than he made last year. Even under this year's deflating income structure for those below superstar status, that has to be considered a modest contract.

If the Orioles were willing to add more than $1 million to their payroll to obtain Davis last year, why wouldn't they be willing to subtract that much to keep him around?

A year ago, manager Johnny Oates came out of spring training with a choice between Davis and Jose Mesa as his fifth starter. Now, the Orioles are looking at John O'Donoghue and Anthony Telford as the top candidates for that slot.

Even with Arthur Rhodes having replaced Bob Milacki in the fourth slot, that cannot be considered progress. And if the Orioles have to dip into their bullpen and summon Alan Mills to start, that would only emphasize the absence of Davis.

Reynolds offers possibilities

On the surface, the addition of the switch-hitting Reynolds offers the possibility of improving one of the two positions (right field being the other) where the Orioles believe they need offensive help.

Below the surface, it seems to lend credence to the belief that the Orioles were determined to break up the Ripken combination, and the only way to do it was to remove Bill from the roster. McLemore, also a switch-hitter, may have been little more than an additional victim of circumstances.

Reynolds has been a solid, if unspectacular, two-way performer for the past seven years with the Seattle Mariners. His acquisition opens a roster spot, possibly for Steve Scarsone, but it would be unfair to expect Reynolds to be an offensive catalyst.

A career .260 hitter, Reynolds has hit as high as .300 (1989) and as low as .222 (1986). From a standpoint of run production (runs scored plus RBI minus home runs), his best years were 1990 and 1991, when he had 150 and 149. As a comparison, Ripken and McLemore combined last year for 134 (67 each).

Between them, Ripken and McLemore made just under $1 million last year. Reynolds' contract for next year calls for $1.65 million, so this obviously was not a move dictated by the bottom line.

The Pirates' blunder

The Orioles are not alone when it comes to making curious moves during the off-season. The Pittsburgh Pirates, whose three-time NL East championship team has been devastated by free agency, may have made the biggest blunder of the winter.

One day after the San Francisco Giants tried to announce the signing of Barry Bonds only to have the deal tied up by 48 hours of legal work, the Pirates had to decide whether to offer arbitration to Bonds.

It was a technicality, but Pittsburgh general manager Ted Simmons wasn't going to take a chance the deal with the Giants might fall through. The Pirates declined to offer arbitration, perhaps the best indication yet of how paranoid teams have become about that process.

Had they offered Bonds arbitration, the Pirates would have received two draft choices as compensation. By declining, they were left with only memories of the gifted outfielder.

Oakland's alternatives

Before reaching an agreement with Mark McGwire ($28.5 million for five years), Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson said he had alternatives if he weren't able to sign the slugging first baseman.

One of the possibilities, said Alderson, was Randy Milligan, who is in baseball limbo after the Orioles chose not to offer him a contract.

Good for Gonzo

If you have any feelings at all toward the little man, you have to feel good about what has happened to ex-Oriole Rene Gonzales. At the same time, you might better understand the impact of arbitration.

After bouncing around as a utility infielder with the Montreal Expos, Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and California Angels, Gonzo started last year in the minors. Injuries gave him a chance to play regularly at third base for California.

Gonzales, a .214 career hitter in 740 previous major-league at-bats, hit .277 in 104 games.

With enough service time to be eligible for arbitration, and a career year in the books, Gonzo signed a one-year contract with the Angels for $750,000.

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