Padres outfielder Bip Roberts stepped out of his sports car Sunday morning and walked down the tunnel toward the Padres clubhouse. The thought hit him like a knockout punch.
“I wondered if today was the last day I’ll play for the Padres,” Roberts said. “For two years, I’ve heard the trade talk, but this time, I’ve got a feeling it just might happen.
“I was thinking, ‘Gee, this is how my scenario here will end. People thinking I’m a malcontent. People thinking I’m a bad guy.’ I just wish people had gotten to know me before they made those judgements. It might be too late now. I think I’m out of here.”
Roberts, according to sources within the Padres organization, almost is certain to be traded in the off-season, and he could wind up wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform.
While the Padres and Reds were finishing the season with a 3-1 Padres victory in front of 10,256 fans at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, general managers Joe McIlvaine of the Padres and Bob Quinn of the Reds opened trade talks that could restructure both clubs.
Although McIlvaine refused to discuss specifics of his meeting, sources said they were talking about possibilities that might rival last year’s monstrous trade with Toronto.
One source said the Padres and Reds are talking about a deal that would send Roberts, All-Star catcher Benito Santiago and a pitcher to the Reds. In return, they’d receive All-Star center fielder Eric Davis, All-Star reliever Randy Myers and catcher Joe Oliver.
“We’re going to talk again at the World Series,” McIlvaine said. “We match up well with them, and we’ll see what happens. But they seem very eager.”
Said Reds Manager Lou Piniella, who will be more involved this off-season in their trades: “Joe and I work well together, and have gotten things done in the past. We’re definitely going to be talking more, and I think seriously.”
The Padres already have offered Roberts to the Reds straight up for Myers, the source said. The Reds, however, turned down the deal, and asked for a pitcher to go along with Roberts.
Then they began to expand their trade talks, and the Padres will have to determine whether Santiago and Davis will be involved in a trade, or leave it as a package for Myers. If they decide to trade only for Myers, they probably will have to put Roberts and either pitcher Ed Whitson or Jose Melendez into the deal.
The Padres, whose most pressing need is a bullpen stopper, have been aggressive in pursuing Myers. He became expendable because of the emergence of Rob Dibble as the bullpen stopper, and there appears little doubt the Reds will trade him.
Myers, who spent half the season as a starter, was 6-13 with a 3.55 ERA this season, allowing 116 hits in 132 innings. Although he had only six saves this season, Myers averaged 27 saves each of the past three seasons.
Although the Reds are not quite as eager to trade Davis, they apparently are willing to part with him if Santiago is involved. Davis, a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, has been injured most of the season and finished with the worst year of his career. He batted .235 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs after averaging 30 homers and 90 RBIs the previous five seasons.
The trouble this season, Davis said, is that he simply returned too early after sustaining a lacerated kidney in Game 3 of the World Series. Instead of returning in May, and taking the full four months off to recuperate, Davis was back playing in spring training.
“I just came back too soon, and it was probably the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in all of my life,” he said. “It’s like I donated my whole season to charity.
“It was stupid to come back that early when I tore my kidney in three places. Then I heard people question my character? Come on. Don’t judge me on 30%. Judge me next year. I’ve got something to prove, and I’m going to do things to my body I’ve never done before.”
Davis, who says he plans to gain 20 pounds in the off-season top increase his weight to 205, is eligible for free agency at the end of the 1992 season, as Santiago is. Davis, too, has heard whispers that he may be traded in the off-season, but San Diego is one of only six teams he can be traded with his permission.
“It would be tough for me to leave Cincinnati because I’ve been here all my life,” Davis said. “But San Diego, I’ve always liked playing there. If I had to leave Cincinnati, San Diego would be a place I’d enjoy playing.”
If the Padres traded for Davis, they also would assume his $3.2 million contract. Yet, the way the Padres figure it, they’d be in the same situation if they retain Santiago. He’s eligible for arbitration again, and is expected to receive at least $3 million if forced to go to another hearing.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Piniella said, “but I know both sides are interested. And when both parties are interested, things can happen quickly.”
Certainly, from all indications, Roberts’ days in a Padres uniform have ended. He said goodby to his teammates and told them he won’t be returning.
“I’m out of this bleeping place,” he said. “I won’t be back here.”
Roberts, the Padres’ Most Valuable Player in 1990, was a big disappointment this season. He played in only 116 games, batting .281 with 66 runs, three homers, 32 RBIs and 26 stolen bases.
“I want to prove to people this is a disappointment for me,” Roberts said. “I also want to prove people wrong who say I’m a trouble-maker and a malcontent. Nobody ever said that about me before this year.
“I want to stay here, and prove people wrong, but I can do that if I’m traded, too. It will give me fuel for the fire and give me a burning desire to prove to myself I can play this game.”