Agent Tony Attanasio is leaving open the possibility that catcher Mickey Tettleton will accept a one-year contract with the Baltimore Orioles, but only if adverse market conditions force him into salary arbitration.
Tettleton is seeking a multiyear contract but has yet to receive a multiyear offer. The Orioles have asked him to accept a one-year deal and might get their wish if they are willing to meet a Dec. 7 deadline for offering arbitration.
If Tettleton has not signed with anyone by that date, the Orioles will have the option of offering salary arbitration. If that happens, Tettleton would have 12 days to accept or decline. He figures to know by Dec. 19 whether he's going to get the multi-year deal he's been looking for, so the arbitration option can only work in his favor.
"What happens Dec. 7?" Attanasio said. "The club has to offer arbitration and we accept. Then I go in there with a copy of Darren Daulton's contract."
Daulton recently signed a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that was worth $6.75 million. That means that his $2.25 million average annual salary will be admissible in an arbitration hearing. Attanasio likes to point out that Daulton got that contract after a season in which his offensive numbers were not significantly better than Tettleton's.
"Daulton just had the best year of his career and it was only marginally better than Mickey's worst year," Attanasio said.
The Orioles don't really have to offer arbitration Dec. 7, but failure to do so could cost them a high draft choice if Tettleton ends up signing with someone else. The club would not be entitled to draft choice compensation for the loss of a ranking free agent unless they offer arbitration.
"The Orioles are really in a tough position," Attanasio said. "If they don't accept arbitration, they get nothing for Mickey Tettleton. They get zero."
Attanasio said that nine clubs have expressed interest in Tettleton, but said he wondered whether that interest would still be alive after this week's general managers' meetings, which ended yesterday. The specter of collusion still hangs over the free-agent market, even as Major League Baseball prepares to agree to a $280 million collusion damage settlement.
"If Darren Daulton can get $6.75 million for three years, I can't imagine there being no interest in Mickey Tettleton," Attanasio said. "If that happens, we'll leave it up to the players' association whether to file a grievance, and we'll agree to arbitration."
Of course, the decision to arbitrate would not necessarily mean that the Tettleton contract dispute would go to an arbitration hearing, but it would put pressure on both sides to find a mutually agreeable one-year salary. Even after a year in which much of Tettleton's offensive production came during one six-week period (May 12-June 23), he would figure to at least double his 1990 salary ($750,000).
"If we couldn't reach an accord, we'd go to the [arbitration] table, something the Orioles don't like to do," Attanasio said. "That's not because they are afraid of the process. They are the best there is. But they don't like the process."
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, reached at the general managers' meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., declined to comment on the situation.
Attanasio expressed hope that the arbitration deadline doesn't have to come into play, but recent contact with the Orioles has been minimal and outside interest has been difficult to gauge.