Baltimore Orioles catcher Mickey Tettleton, who has been waiting for months to see if the club would make a serious attempt to re-sign him, is going to get a chance to find out whether anyone else is interested.
He was one of 26 players who notified the Major League Players Association yesterday that they had opted for free agency.
Tettleton, Darryl Strawberry, Kirk Gibson, Dave Righetti and former Oriole Phil Bradley were among those who exercised that option on the first full business day after the start of the 15-day, free-agent filing period. Relief pitcher Joe Price, who was cut loose by the Orioles over the weekend, also declared himself a free agent.
The free-agent filing period began Sunday and ends at midnight Nov. 3. Until the deadline, free agents can talk salary only with their original clubs, but they are free to accept general inquiries or attempt to gauge interest from other teams.
Tettleton had a disappointing season, but he remains confident that there will be outside interest. He hit only 15 home runs and struck out 160 times in 444 at-bats, but a switch-hitting catcher with power still figures to have value on the open market. It's up to agent Tony Attanasio to determine how much.
"We just felt we owed it to ourselves to see what is out there," Tettleton said from his home in Arizona. "We're not saying 'no' to the Orioles at all. We've talked, but it's still in the getting-started process."
Attanasio approached the Orioles about a multiyear contract last winter, but did not press the issue during the regular season. Tettleton remained silent on the situation, standing in stark contrast to Bradley, who complained his way right out of the organization.
Now it is Tettleton's turn to do some talking, and he doesn't have to limit himself to one team. But he said he still hopes to stay in Baltimore, where he enjoyed a breakthrough season (26 home runs) in 1989. The question is whether the Orioles really want him back.
"I talked to Larry [Lucchino, club president] after the last game," Tettleton said. "I just asked him what to expect. He just said they were going to start talking."
The Orioles have had very little to say about the Tettleton situation. The club has expressed an interest in re-signing him, -- but spent part of September auditioning potential replacement Chris Hoiles.
Tettleton said that negotiations have begun, but they are only in the preliminary stages. If he remains eager to remain in Baltimore, he also appears to be looking forward to the free agent re-entry process.
"There's a curiosity more than anything," he said. "It's sort of a reward for players who have stayed around for a few years. Tony seems to think there will be some interest. We're waiting and seeing. I really don't know what to expect."
Neither general manager Roland Hemond nor Lucchino has been willing to speak publicly about the Tettleton negotiations, and neither was available for comment yesterday.
The opening of the free-agent market figures to put the Orioles front office on trial, because Hemond and Lucchino have said that they would explore every avenue in an attempt to put a contending team on the field in 1991.
There were a number of players among the first wave of free
agents who would meet the needs expressed by manager Frank Robinson. The Orioles are looking for a proven run-producer and a front-line starting pitcher. There is no shortage of either in this year's free-agent crop, but the club would have to spend some serious money to sign a Gary Gaetti or a Ted Higuera,both of whom are eligible to file.
Hemond already is exploring less-costly avenues, though th short World Series cut into the time he had hoped to spend there talking with other general managers.
Rumors have surfaced that the club is interested in Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Von Hayes, but if the Orioles were willing to pay someone $2 million per year (Hayes' 1990 salary), they probably could do better than Hayes. For that kind of money, they could keep their young pitching prospects and sign free agent Candy Maldonado, who had better run-production numbers last year (19 homers, 95 RBI) than Hayes (17 homers, 73 RBI).