SAN DIEGO — The Padres are moving closer to acquiring All-Star center fielder Eric Davis of the Cincinnati Reds in a multi-player trade, a highly placed source said.
The Padres are discussing a proposal that would send infielder/outfielder Bip Roberts and possibly two other players in a package deal for Davis, the source said.
"Let's put it like this, I'll be very surprised if it doesn't happen," the source said.
Joe McIlvaine, Padres general manager, confirmed the Padres have had ongoing trade talks this week with the Reds in an effort to obtain Davis, but said a deal has not been finalized.
"We've talked, and we'll continue to talk," McIlvaine said. "To say we're on the verge of something wouldn't be fair. We'll see what happens."
A source close to McIlvaine said the Padres pulled All-Star catcher Benito Santiago out of the deal. Yet the Reds still are willing to make the trade without Santiago included in the proposal.
"They're not going to give Davis away," a source said, "but they like Bip an awful lot, and this would give them extra money."
Davis, a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, is in the final year of a three-year contract that will pay him $3.1 million this season. Davis also is eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
Would the Padres trade for Davis without first attempting to sign him to a long-term contract?
"I think it would be difficult to sign him because he's coming off an off year," McIlvaine said. "We haven't reached that point, anyway."
The Dodgers also have contacted the Reds about Davis, a source said.
Davis, still recovering from the lacerated kidney he sustained in Game 4 of the 1990 World Series, had the worst year of his career this past season. He batted .235 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs, after averaging 30 homers and 90 RBIs the previous five seasons.
Roberts, who's eligible for arbitration and is expected to earn between $1.2 million and $1.4 million next season, also had a disappointing season. He batted .281 with three homers, 32 RBIs and scored 66 runs. The Padres thought so highly of him a year ago that they rejected trading him for outfielder Danny Tartabull of the Kansas City Royals. But Roberts since has fallen out of favor.
If the Padres were able to consummate the trade, they would start Davis in center field and bat him fifth behind first baseman Fred McGriff. They also would still have Santiago, who could be retained or possibly be used in another trade to acquire a third baseman or a bullpen stopper.
"It's very important to get some protection behind Fred," McIlvaine said, "and I'd rather do it through trades than free agency to save the cost of draft picks."
The Padres indeed might soon have an urgent need to acquire a third baseman. Padres third baseman Jack Howell, a source said, is on the verge of signing a two-year contract with the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese League that would pay him nearly $3 million.
Howell, whom the Padres were hoping to retain as a free agent and platoon at third base with Tim Teufel, confirmed that he is close to signing with Yakult, and could reach an agreement within a week.
"It's a tough decision, because I really like San Diego," Howell said, "but it's a tough offer to turn down. That's an awful lot of money.
"I don't see a team in the states that would come close to that offer."
The contract would guarantee Howell at least $1 million in his first year, according to a source, and the Swallows would have the option for the second year. If Yakult exercises the option, and Howell reaches his incentives, he could earn about $2.8 million.
"The Padres said they'd like to talk contract with me after the winter meetings (concluding Dec. 11)," Howell said, "but chances are I'll be long gone by then. I'll still give them a call before I do anything, but the plusses outweigh the negatives."
Although Howell's departure would crimp the Padres' plans, McIlvaine hinted it was unlikely he could guarantee a similar contract and would have to trade for a third baseman. The Padres removed third baseman Scott Coolbaugh from their 40-man roster on Thursday. They do not have anyone in the minor leagues capable of starting at third next season.
"I know it's going to be different," said Howell, who was acquired July 30 from the Angels for outfielder Shawn Abner, "but they're going to give me a chance to play every inning of every game, every day I'm not going to have that chance here. I'd be platooning. I'd like to show what I'm capable of doing, and then maybe come back in two years.
"Really, it's just a matter of getting back on track."
The Padres also might have to begin considering the possibility of trading for a shortstop. Tony Fernandez informed McIlvaine on Thursday afternoon that he probably would demand a trade today.
However, John Davimos, his agent, insists that Fernandez wants to remain in San Diego and only is protecting his interests. Fernandez, who is scheduled to be paid $2.1 million in 1992 and $2.3 million in 1993, is seeking to restructure. He also wants the Padres to make improvements in their infield.
"There's no question Tony wants to stay," Davimos said earlier this week, "but he wants improvements. They've got one of the best shortstops ever to play the game and look what happened. He wasn't even the same player. Why did they trade for him if they want to see him make 20 errors?
"For Tony to have the season he had goes beyond Tony. He couldn't believe it. He wants some changes made, and money's definitely an issue."
If Fernandez demands a trade, the Padres must honor his request by March 15, or he becomes a free agent. Fernandez can rescind his trade demand at any time.