Orioles may try for Whitt if Tettleton isn't re-signed

BASEBALL

November 16, 1990|By PETER SCHMUCK

All's quiet on the Mickey Tettleton front, and there is evidence that the Baltimore Orioles may have planned it that way.

Why else would they have contacted veteran catcher Ernie Whitt several weeks ago to see whether he might be interested in a reserve role with the club?

General manager Roland Hemond confirmed yesterday that one his first acts of the off-season was to call Whitt, who was released by the Atlanta Braves after an injury-marred 1990 season.

Orioles officials insist that they are confident the catching combination of Chris Hoiles and Bob Melvin would be sufficient to carry them through 1991 if Tettleton doesn't come back, but their early interest in another veteran catcher -- and a left-handed-hitting catcher at that -- seems to indicate that they already were preparing for life after Mickey.

Whitt, or someone like him, would provide some spring training insurance against the possibility of a catching injury.

"I talked to him a few weeks ago," Hemond said. "We simply wanted to see if he thought he might continue his career, but no offer was made."

Hemond indicated that Whitt, 38, intends to play another year, and left open the possibility that there might be future discussions.

The Orioles want to be ready for any eventuality, but it's hard not to see some connection between the stalled Tettleton talks and the contact with another veteran catcher -- even if each would fill a far different role.

Little has changed since Tettleton filed for free agency in late October. He continues to seek a multiyear deal, and the Orioles hope that he'll eventually settle for a one-year contract, though the club has said very little about the negotiations.

Whitt, who missed two months of 1990 season with a hand injury and lost his starting job behind the plate to Greg Olson, probably would be called on only if the Orioles were concerned about their catching depth going into spring training. That depth would be in doubt only if Tettleton ends up in a different uniform in 1991.

"It was just exploratory," Hemond said. "It was a case of, if we did have a need, he can feel free to give us a call."

Though there are other free-agent catchers available, Hemond said Whitt was the only catcher he contacted. Among the veterans out there are Ron Hassey and Bob Boone, but the Orioles apparently are looking for emergency insurance rather than someone who might make an issue of playing time.

Whitt, a Toronto Blue Jay for most of his career, is coming off a frustrating season in which he batted .178 against right-handed pitching. He would not be in a position to ask for much of anything.

There is sentiment in the front office that Hoiles and Melvin would leave the Orioles in better stead behind the plate than many other major-league teams, but division titles aren't decided by a comparison of catching statistics.

The Orioles are already suffering from an across-the-board run-production shortage, so the loss of Tettleton would leave them needing to make a significant free-agent purchase just to get back to square one.

* Hemond and club president Larry Lucchino met for an hour with agent Ron Shapiro and associate Michael Maas on Wednesday, presumably to discuss free-agent left-handers Danny Jackson and Matt Young.

The meeting took place at Shapiro's office, but Hemond said the face-to-face discussion was more a matter of proximity than necessity. Shapiro, who is based in Baltimore, represents Jackson, Young and right-hander Mike Boddicker, but a source said that the club's interest is now focused on a left-handed starter.

Both Jackson and Young would fill a need for the Orioles, who otherwise figure to field an entirely right-handed rotation, but both pitchers have a history of injury that has club officials admittedly wary.

Still, there is the possibility that the Orioles will take a chance on a pitcher of questionable durability because that probably would be reflected in the sticker price.

* The Orioles continue to stock the minor-league system with talent from outside the organization. The club signed another six-year minor-league free agent yesterday, bringing to three the number of additions to the farm system this week.

Outfielder Chito Martinez, who hit 21 home runs for the Class AAA Omaha Royals last year, signed a Rochester Red Wings contract and will be invited to compete for a job at major-league spring training camp.

Martinez, 24, has hit 57 home runs over his past three minor-league seasons. He is a left-handed hitter who the Orioles were surprised to find unprotected by the Kansas City Royals.

"He's got a very good reputation," Hemond said. "[Rochester manager] Greg Biagini managed him in winter ball and liked him very much."

The Orioles had to compete for Martinez's services, promising him a chance to go to spring camp with the major-league club.

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