Devereaux could be Oriole again at right price, role

January 04, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

The Orioles want a reserve outfielder who can hit left-handed pitching for power.

Why not Mike Devereaux?

Jerome Walton was the Orioles' first choice, but he signed a one-year, $500,000 contract yesterday with Atlanta, saying he turned down a "substantially higher" offer from the Orioles to play closer to his home in Fairburn, Ga.

Devereaux, 32, apparently is seeking $1 million. The world champion Braves didn't want him at that price, even though he was MVP of the National League Championship Series. The Orioles probably wouldn't, either.

Still, they're interested.

General manager Pat Gillick last night called Devereaux "a possibility," and assistant general manager Kevin Malone said he planned to contact Devereaux's agent, Ray Anderson.

"I wouldn't say that he's your best center fielder, but at least he has played center," Gillick said. "He played in Baltimore before. He just finished playing for a world champion.

"From what I've heard, Mike's a good guy, a gamer. You need these people on the type of club we're trying to build."

The downside?

Money will be one obstacle. Playing time could be another.

Devereaux was the Orioles' starting center fielder from 1989 to '94. He said yesterday that he was open to returning, but he might balk at a reduced salary and limited role.

Farm director Syd Thrift said Devereaux the Orioles will hold a staff meeting today to discuss their outfield options. Jerry Browne, a versatile type who can also play second base, is another free agent under consideration.

Gillick said the Orioles had no interest in Roberto Kelly, a player with connections to Malone (Montreal) and manager Davey Johnson (Cincinnati). The reason, Malone said, is that Kelly wants to play every day.

Kelly wouldn't get that chance in an outfield with Brady Anderson, Bobby Bonilla and Jeffrey Hammonds. Neither would Devereaux, who re-established himself with the Braves and Chicago White Sox last season, and surely wants to be a regular again.

Still, Johnson excels at creating playing time for his reserves, and probably could find Devereaux 450 at-bats as a fourth outfielder and DH. Who knows? If Hammonds isn't healthy, Devereaux could figure even more prominently.

Devereaux batted .299 last season with 11 homers and 63 RBIs, hit a two-out, 11th-inning single to win Game 1 of the NLCS, then a three-run homer in the series clincher. Over the past five years, he has batted .299 against left-handers, with 27 homers and 101 RBIs in 702 at-bats.

If he is willing to swallow his pride, and if owner Peter Angelos is willing to forgive a player who batted .203 while earning $3.375 million in an injury-marred 1994 season, this could be an excellent fit.

Isn't that right, Mike?

"I spent six years there," a guarded Devereaux said from his home in Atlanta. "I had no regrets doing that. I had no regrets not playing there last year. I always enjoyed Baltimore. I had a great time there, there's no doubt."

Anderson, his agent, was more expansive.

"Things change, and things change again," he said. "Mike enjoyed his time in Baltimore. It's a great city. It's a great park. The club obviously is trying to win. Now that they've got Gillick and Malone, who wouldn't want to play there?"

Anderson said Devereaux is seeking a deal comparable to those signed by Darryl Hamilton with Texas ($1.05 million) and Kevin Seitzer with Milwaukee ($1 million). Devereaux had an $800,000 base salary last season, with incentives pushing his earnings to nearly $1.35 million.

Much as it would disappoint him, he might not reach that level next season. Anderson conceded that the market for Devereaux is depressed, saying clubs are trying to "slot" him for a salary in the $500,000 range.

"Three or four teams have expressed interest, but the interest obviously is not as intense as we would have liked," Anderson said. "We'd like to think Mike will compare with guys like Hamilton and Seitzer, but everything is flexible in this market, as long as the opportunity is there."

So, how much would the Orioles offer? Malone said they tried to sign Walton for a slightly higher base salary than the $500,000 he received from Atlanta, plus an incentive package. They're probably not prepared to offer Devereaux $1 million.

"I don't know if we're willing to pay that kind of money to an extra outfielder," Malone said. "We could structure [the incentive package] to get him close to that. Maybe we could reach a point where both sides feel comfortable. We're just starting to explore it."

Devereaux is not the player who drove in 107 runs in '92, but the Orioles don't need him to be. He should be mature enough to accept playing second fiddle to his old friend and rival, Brady Anderson. He turns 33 in April. His career is winding down.

Devo, come home.

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