NEW YORK -- Mickey Tettleton hit his first home run in more than two months last night, and his timing was interesting, to say the least. The Orioles learned earlier in the day that Chris Hoiles likely will require surgery on his injured right shoulder.
Hoiles, 25, figures to be one of the Orioles' two catchers next season if Tettleton signs with another club as a free agent. But the injury he suffered Sunday could alter the picture, even if he is recovered by spring training.
"Anytime someone has an operation, he's a question mark, no doubt about it," manager Frank Robinson said before last night's 15-3 loss to New York. "Especially in that position, where throwing is very important."
Tettleton, however, said he did not expect the Hoiles situation to have a significant impact on his contract talks with the Orioles, which have been stalled since July. His agent, Tony Attanasio, was unavailable, and club president Larry Lucchino declined comment.
Attanasio said earlier this month that Tettleton would be "foolish" not to pursue free agency at the end of the season. Tettleton, 30, said last night the negotiations were "real dead. They've more or less said wait until the end of the season. We've just gone along with that."
Robinson has said the Orioles will attempt to re-sign Tettleton, and it still appears the club will make him a sincere offer, probably for two years with an option. The question now is whether the offer will include more money now if Hoiles faces a lengthy rehabilitation.
Hoiles underwent a second Magnetic Resonance Imaging Test yesterday, and the results confirmed the original diagnosis by club physician Charles Silberstein -- either a torn or ruptured muscle in the back of the shoulder.
Robinson said Silberstein believes surgery is necessary, but advised Hoiles to get a second opinion because "he's never seen anything like this before." The next step for Hoiles is to visit Boston club physician Arthur Pappas, probably in the next day or two.
"I don't see any way he's going to avoid having an operation," Robinson said, adding that the surgery probably would be conventional rather than arthroscopic, increasing the length of Hoiles' recovery time.
Whatever happens, the Orioles will still be left with difficult decisions this winter at catcher, designated hitter and first base. Their 1991 depth chart at all three positions hinges on the outcome of the Tettleton negotiations.
Tettleton is batting .219, and has struck out a club-record 156 times in 433 at-bats. Eleven of his 13 homers came in a five-week span from May 17 to June 23. Since then he is batting .189, but he leads the majors with 104 walks and ranks fourth on the club with 49 RBIs.
Hoiles might match that production if given the chance -- he batted .348 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs at Rochester, and was 6-for-14 with two doubles after returning Sept. 15. But his arm was questionable even before he suffered his injury making a throw to second.
Now that he is hurt, the Orioles might decide to keep Bob Melvin -- their best defensive catcher -- even if they re-sign Tettleton. Three is a crowd, but at the moment the club needs Melvin, 28, as protection against the possible losses of Tettleton or Hoiles.
The situation is no less muddled at designated hitter, where Tettleton probably would receive a significant number of at-bats if he returned. Robinson said he wants to employ a full-time DH after using 15 this season, but that might not be possible.
First the Orioles must decide whether they will pick up the option year on Ron Kittle's contract, valued at $550,000. Kittle, 32, has started only 14 of 52 games since arriving for Phil Bradley July 30. Yet indications are he will be back, at least for spring training.
The Orioles, desperate for power, would risk little by holding onto Kittle, for they could always release him with minimal financial loss next spring. In the meantime, he would represent insurance if the club traded first baseman Randy Milligan to clear playing time for David Segui.
No one has mentioned that scenario yet, but it might be considered. Milligan is one of the few Orioles who will have substantial market value this winter. He leads the club with 20 homers even though he has been sidelined with a separated left shoulder since Aug. 7.
Segui, meanwhile, has batted .300 in his last 16 games. He's only 24, but he's a switch-hitter and smooth fielder. It might seem silly for the Orioles to consider trading Milligan, but the idea might have merit if they could obtain a power-hitting outfielder in return.
Of course, they could dump Kittle, keep Segui and give Milligan more at-bats at DH. But then there's Sam Horn, who likely will compete to be the full-time DH -- his numbers over 500 at-bats project to 28 homers and 91 RBIs.
Again, it all depends on Tettleton.
And maybe on Chris Hoiles.