It came as no surprise yesterday when catcher Mickey Tettleton filed for free agency. Rather than signify an end to his Orioles career, the action merely puts him in position to negotiate with other clubs.
The Orioles say they want to sign Tettleton, but they will lose exclusive negotiating rights after the 15-day filing period ends Nov. 4. Tettleton then will be free to solicit offers from other clubs.
"It's his right to do this, but it doesn't deter us from trying to sign him," club president Larry Lucchino said last night. "In a sense, it's a formality. What it means remains to be seen."
Tettleton, 30, yesterday confirmed the Orioles have made him another offer, but he and Lucchino declined to reveal specifics. Tettleton's agent, Tony Attanasio, was unavailable for comment.
"The parties have made sincere efforts," Lucchino said. "We're working on it."
Tettleton was one of 18 players who declared free agency yesterday, bringing the total to 21. Orioles reliever Joe Price was one of the first three entries when the filing period began Sunday.
The New York Mets' Darryl Strawberry was the biggest name on yesterday's list, followed by two other outfielders -- Los Angeles' Kirk Gibson and St. Louis' Vince Coleman -- and New York Yankees reliever Dave Righetti.
Two other names were worth noting: Chicago White Sox outfielder Phil Bradley, who bargained his way out of Baltimore in July, and Philadelphia catcher Darren Daulton, the player most comparable to Tettleton.
Attanasio obviously wasted no time acting on behalf of his client, but Tettleton said that isn't necessarily a reflection on the status of his negotiations with the Orioles.
"You can read a lot of different things into it," Tettleton said from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I probably would have filed anyway. This doesn't mean I don't want to come back to Baltimore."
That is Tettleton's stated intention, but his Orioles talks broke down in July over the length of contract. Tettleton, who made $750,000 this season, is believed to be seeking a three-year deal.
Daulton, 28, rejected a three-year, $6.6 million offer from the Phillies the final week of the season, and reportedly is anxious to see what the market will bring.
Tettleton, a switch-hitter, batted .223 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs this season. Daulton, a lefthanded hitter, batted .268 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs. Both are capable of playing first base.
To this point, the Tettleton negotiations have evolved precisely as Attanasio predicted on Sept. 4, when he said his client would be "foolish" not to file for free agency.
"The club will say, 'Look, we want you back, here's an offer we think is fair and reasonable, you make your decision,' " Attanasio said then. "Then, they'll just let Mickey go on the market."
Now the Orioles must sign Tettleton in the next two weeks to avoid bidding against other clubs. Attanasio can begin contacting those clubs, but he can not discuss specifics until Nov. 5.
If Tettleton remains unsigned, the Orioles must offer him a one-year contract through arbitration by Dec. 7 to reserve their right to draft-pick compensation.
Tettleton then can accept arbitration by Dec. 19 and retain his free agency for next year. The Orioles could continue negotiating with him until the date of his arbitration hearing in February.
Of course, Tettleton also could reject the arbitration offer. The Orioles would then need to sign him by Jan. 8, or risk losing negotiating rights until May 1.
But all that is down the line. Tettleton is a free agent. "You get into this position," he said, "you owe it to yourself to see what happens."