The Orioles were surprised yesterday when Ron Kittle filed for free agency, but his agent said the veteran first baseman-designated hitter was merely trying to protect his rights in the event the club does not pick up his option year by Dec. 15.
The agent, Jim Bronner, said today that he and Kittle recognize the next move belongs to the club, but were concerned by the implications of having to learn in mid-December that his option would not be renewed.
Specifically, Bronner said he wanted to avoid a situation in which the Orioles decline the option, then offer Kittle another contract -- most likely non-guaranteed -- to retain his services for the 1991 season.
The filing period for potential free agents ends Nov. 4, and Bronner said he wanted to attempt to clarify Kittle's status now rather than wait until Dec. 15, when the Orioles might claim he is not free.
General manager Roland Hemond said he expects the matter to be resolved today by the Major League Baseball Players Association and Player Relations Committee, the representative arms of the players and owners, respectively.
Kittle's option year is worth $600,000 and the Orioles must buy him out for $100,000 if they do not want him back. Hemond said earlier this month the club likely would delay its decision until December.
The Orioles acquired Kittle from the Chicago White Sox July 30 for free-agent outfielder Phil Bradley. Kittle led the White Sox with 16 homers, but batted .164 with two homers and three RBIs in only 61 at-bats after joining Baltimore.
The day the season ended, he said, "You'll probably see me in the spring. They're not going to let me go. I'll put it this way. If they let me go, I'll be a free agent -- and the market is there."
* TYPE A PERSONALITY: Under one scenario, the ranking of catcher Mickey Tettleton as a Type A free agent might force the Orioles to offer him salary arbitration. Otherwise, they would not receive draft picks if he signed with another team.
Tettleton ranked third among American League catchers in the annual statistical ratings compiled by the Elias Sports Bureau. The ratings, released Wednesday, determine the level of compensation for teams that lose players to free agency.
Because Tettleton is in the elite class, the Orioles will receive the signing team's first-round draft pick and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds if he agrees to a contract with another club by Dec. 7.
But if Tettleton remains unsigned by that date -- one day after the scheduled end of the winter meetings -- the Orioles must offer him a one-year contract through arbitration to ensure they receive compensation.
The scenario is not far-fetched, for many observers believe the free-agent market will be far less explosive this year, with teams exploring other options before extending long-term contract offers.
The Orioles' latest proposal to Tettleton is for one year, and he is believed to be seeking three. Hence, the possibility that the club will lose him and enter next June's draft with as many as three of the top 30 selections.
"To some organizations, that means a great deal; to others, it means absolutely nothing," said Tettleton's agent, Tony Attanasio. "I think it means something to the Orioles. They have to offer him arbitration or hope he signs with someone else to get the draft choices.
"They cannot, in my opinion, do nothing. That would make no sense -- then there's zero compensation. Larry Lucchino is too smart for that. Roland Hemond is too smart for that."
Lucchino and Hemond are refusing comment on the Tettleton negotiations. Attanasio said five of the seven clubs he contacted about Tettleton had interest. The agent is not permitted to actually negotiate with other teams until Nov. 5.