The Orioles are wading into deeper free-agent waters, and Houston first baseman/outfielder Franklin Stubbs and Cincinnati lefthander Danny Jackson are among the fish they're trying to hook.
General manager Roland Hemond spoke yesterday with the agents for both players, pushing the club toward the point where it might begin extending contract offers, perhaps even by the end of the week.
From all indications, the Orioles remain interested in a number of free agents, but Stubbs and Jackson apparently have risen to the top of their shrinking list.
Jim Turner, the agent for Stubbs, said yesterday he has received serious inquiries from six teams, three in each league. The Orioles, he said, "are interested, no question about it."
The Jackson situation is less clear. His Baltimore-based agent, Ron Shapiro, also represents free-agent pitchers Matt Young of Seattle and Mike Boddicker of Boston. But Jackson is believed to be the Orioles' primary target.
Shapiro was unavailable for comment yesterday. His associate, Michael Maas, said talks with the Orioles were "still in the preliminary stages." Is the club serious? "We'll find out in a week or so," Maas said.
Hemond refused to discuss specifics, saying he was merely following "the normal procedure of periodic conversations. We touch base, see what's developing. I don't grade the stages."
Turner, however, said he already has asked each of the clubs interested in Stubbs to make a contract proposal. Asked Hemond's reaction, he replied, "He understood me."
"I think Roland understands the length of contract I'm looking for," Turner said. "I know they're looking at him as an everyday player. Therefore, it's on to the next step. I think the next step is forthcoming. It's on its way."
Stubbs, 30, batted .261 with 23 homers and 71 RBIs last season playing half his games in the Astrodome. He is believed to be seeking a three-year contract, and wants assurances regarding playing time.
Jackson, who turns 29 in January, is a starter who finished 6-6 with a 3.61 ERA for the world champion Reds. He won 23 games in 1988, but has made five trips to the disabled list the past two seasons, four because of shoulder injuries.
The Orioles, anxious to add a power-hitting outfielder and veteran starter, apparently believe Stubbs and Jackson will be relative bargains in a volatile free-agent market that ultimately could include more than 100 players.
Of course, a player with a $2 million annual salary is considered a bargain under present market conditions, and the Orioles probably will be forced to pay that amount in a multi-year contract to land a quality free agent.
They expressed preliminary interest in more than a dozen such players, but agents representing Milwaukee pitcher Teddy Higuera and Boston outfielder Tom Brunansky were among those yesterday who said they had not heard again from Hemond.
The Orioles also are believed to be in contact with representatives of several free agents who could improve their bench, including infielder/outfielder Denny Walling of St. Louis, who batted .220 with one homer and 19 RBIs last season.
Hemond said only that he contacted several agents in his first day back at Memorial Stadium since returning from the general managers' meetings last week in Scottsdale, Ariz. Club president Larry Lucchino declined comment.
Stubbs is a Type A free agent, but the Orioles would lose only a second-round draft pick as compensation after finishing in the bottom 13 in the overall major-league standings. Teams that finished in the top 13 would lose a first-round pick for signing such a player.
Jackson carries no such concerns; he is a free agent without compensation, largely because of his inactivity the past two years. The Reds, however, are expected to make a strong attempt to keep him if they lose their other free-agent lefthander, Tom Browning.
It is not known how many teams are pursuing Jackson, but lefthanders are always in demand; witness the recent signing of Bud Black to a four-year, $10 million contract with San Francisco, despite his 83-82 career record.
Houston, Cleveland and Atlanta are believed to be among the other five clubs interested in Stubbs, a lefthanded hitter who had a .227 lifetime average entering last season, but also hit 23 homers for Los Angeles in 1986.
The Orioles tried to acquire Stubbs in a trade last spring before the Dodgers sent him to the Astros for minor-league pitcher Terry Wells. Stubbs proceeded to have a career year, but the Astros reportedly balked at his demand for a guarantee of 500 at-bats.
Turner said he does not yet have any contract offers for Stubbs, but believes he will field several by week's end. Jackson also figures to receive a number of proposals in the days leading up to the winter meetings in Chicago Dec. 1 to 6.
The Orioles keep inching out into the free-agent surf.
The next step is to take the plunge.