Devereaux is worth great deal of thought

KEN ROSENTHAL

September 23, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

CLEVELAND -- The Orioles will be tempted to trade Mike Devereaux this winter. They can envision Devereaux bringing them a quality starting pitcher. They can fantasize about adding a proven impact player. They can even project an outfield of Brady Anderson, Jeffrey Hammonds and Mark McLemore.

The scenarios are intriguing, but assistant GM Doug Melvin has warned that the Orioles should think twice about trading Devereaux or Anderson before they become free agents in 1994. Given Hammonds' uncertain status, and Devereaux's belief that can rebound from an off-year, Melvin is right.

The Orioles probably can't trade an outfielder until they're certain Hammonds is healthy, especially if they intend to move McLemore to second base. Hammonds is not expected to require surgery to repair the herniated disk in his neck. But as one club official said: "We're rolling the dice."

Hammonds will be lost for six to eight months if he undergoes surgery. Doctors say his injury should heal itself with rest and rehabilitation, but no doubt the Orioles will be crossing their fingers when Hammonds is re-examined in mid-October.

One way or another, the club is facing a decision on Devereaux, who is earning $3.025 million this season, and probably will be in the same range next year. Neither he nor Anderson will match his 1992 statistics, but Anderson will be closer, and as a leadoff man, he'd be more difficult to replace.

The Orioles could sign Anderson for two or three years, then trade Devereaux to clear $3 million for a superior player. Atlanta GM John Schuerholz fears his payroll might reach $55 million next season. That means one of the Braves' sluggers could be available -- probably first baseman Fred McGriff.

The Braves can replace McGriff with rookie Ryan Klesko. Or, they could trade one of their 100-RBI outfielders, Ron Gant or David Justice. Obviously, any of those players could help the Orioles. Other teams also will try to reduce their payrolls. If the Orioles turn aggressive, the possibilities will be endless.

Which isn't to say Devereaux should be the odd man out. He believes his problems resulted in large part from the injury to his left shoulder on May 2. The sprained sternoclavicular joint was expected to keep him out four to six weeks. He returned in three.

"I could still feel it when I came back," Devereaux said. "But I was told I couldn't hurt it any worse if I could handle the pain. I felt I could do that, if I didn't dive and land on it again. But it made me more cautious on defense. There were balls I would have made a better attempt at, but didn't."

Devereaux said he altered his throwing motion and that "certain swings would cause pain -- if I got fooled on a pitch, especially." The injury was to his front shoulder. "I feel it's still kind of weak," Devereaux said. "My main priority in the off-season is to make it strong."

Clearly, he hasn't been the same player -- witness his .221 average since Aug. 1, and his 0-for-20 slump at the start of this road trip. Twice in this series, the Indians issued intentional walks to the slumping McLemore in front of him. Who could question the strategy? Devereaux hit into a double play and struck out.

Still, if you project his statistics over 156 games -- the number Devereaux played last season -- he would have only seven fewer homers (17) and 16 fewer RBI (91). The decline in his run production boils down to his decline with the bases loaded -- 13-for-25 with 38 RBI last season, 3-for-20 with three RBI this year.

"I feel I've never gotten on a roll," Devereaux said. "In that sense, I can say it wasn't as favorable a season as I wanted it to be. A lot of times last year, even the year before, I'd go through a period where I'd have a good couple of weeks. I never did that this year."

Devereaux is adamant that 1992 was not a mirage -- "I don't believe the season I had last year is unattainable," he said. But he'll be 31 next April, a free agent next October. The Orioles must decide whether he's a true offensive force or just another complementary player.

"Is he going to get better? Has he reached his peak? I don't know," manager Johnny Oates said. "Only time will tell. He's not having the year he had last year. But he might not be having the year he's going to have next year."

Naturally, Devereaux wants the chance to prove himself again. "I like the city of Baltimore. I like playing for the Orioles," he said. "There's no doubt I'd like to spend the rest of my career here, but it's something I have no control over.

"If they want me here, I'll be here.

"If they don't, I won't."

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