A turned-off Devo may not turn it on

January 18, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

They won't give him a long-term contract. They might take him to salary arbitration. And now they're talking about moving him out of center field.

The Orioles can justify each decision on Mike Devereaux, but if they want a productive season out of him, they should consider the cumulative impact of each potential conflict.

Devereaux, 30, is mature enough to understand that the game is a business, and happy that his friend, Brady Anderson, signed a three-year contract even if it clouds his own future.

Still, even if the Orioles assume he will be lost to free agency, why should they antagonize a player who two years ago drove in 107 runs?

The question is growing relevant, now that the Bobby Bonilla trade is dead, now that Devereaux has filed for arbitration, now that manager Johnny Oates is considering moving Anderson to center field.

"I've thought about it," Oates said yesterday from his home in Colonial Heights, Va. "I've thought about it for two years."

Anderson, who turns 30 today, makes no secret of his desire to return to center. He's the one with the better arm, not to mention the long-term commitment. It's the perfect time to make the move -- especially if this is Devereaux's last season in Baltimore.

"It's sort of tough for me to say that," Devereaux said from his home in Tampa, Fla. "I wouldn't want it to be. But there are some indications that it will be." Oates, however, said the possibility of Devereaux leaving the Orioles "doesn't have anything to do with it. My goal is see what I can do this year, not to worry about next year."

Many in the organization believe Anderson is a better center fielder, but Devereaux became an everyday player first, forcing Anderson to establish himself in left.

Oates said he will discuss his plans with both players and Jeffrey Hammonds at the start of spring training. Devereaux said he will withhold his reaction until speaking with Oates.

The likely scenario is that Oates will rotate all three outfielders in the exhibition games, then make his decision shortly before Opening Day.

"I'll have to sit down and talk to people, whether I stay the same or make the switch," Oates said. "If we stay the same, I've got to explain it to Brady. If we switch, I've got to explain it to Devo."

Only one thing appears certain -- Hammonds won't be in center. "I've got an opinion of where he's best at," Oates said. Devereaux was mostly a right fielder in the minors. Hammonds could wind up in left.

"It presents a lot of possibilities," Oates said. "It's not going to be predetermined. We'll use spring training to find out.

"I'm not trying to slight anyone. Our goal is to put the best $H alignment out there that makes us the best team. Our goal is to win this year. Not to be competitive. To win. We've got to have the attitude, it's not me or I, it's we."

Still, Oates knows the message he'd be sending Devereaux -- "I think you have to consider that," he said. Indeed, it might be counterproductive to further disrupt Devereaux if he arrives at spring training fresh off a nasty contract dispute.

In the past, the Orioles have preferred to avoid arbitration hearings, but under new owner Peter Angelos -- a skilled negotiator -- who knows if that trend will continue?

Devereaux earned $3.025 million last season. The Orioles probably will offer him a small raise -- say, $3.3 million. But with arbitration based on two-year performance, Devereaux's request might approach $4 million.

"I would anticipate in every case the club playing hardball," said Devereaux's agent, Ray Anderson. "We're expecting them to try to take a hardball position, although we don't see how that would behoove them."

Why alienate your No. 2 hitter? Just last spring, the Orioles talked to Devereaux about a multi-year contract. But the team was for sale, owner Eli Jacobs was near bankruptcy, and such a move was out of the question.

Devereaux proceeded to have an off-year (.250, 14 home runs, 75 RBIs). But he might never have reached this crossroads, if not for a shoulder injury that sidelined him in May and bothered him the entire season.

Now, after an off-season conditioning program, he again is pain-free. "It wasn't that I wanted the season to get over with," Devereaux said, "but when I knew we weren't in it, I couldn't wait to get healthy."

The Orioles had better not push hard. A healthy Mike Devereaux drove in 107 runs two years ago. A healthy and happy Mike Devereaux could be that player again.

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