Covering his tracks in his attempt to land a power-hitting outfielder, Orioles general manager Roland Hemond yesterday renewed contact with the representatives for free agents Jeffrey Leonard, Candy Maldonado and Tom Brunansky.
In each case Hemond told the agent the Orioles needed more time to decide their course of action. That means the club isn't likely to make any contract offers to free agents until next week, at the earliest.
Other teams apparently are moving at the same pace, but another player in whom the Orioles have interest, first baseman/outfielder Franklin Stubbs, is expected to receive his first offer today, according to his agent, Jim Turner.
"Clubs usually develop a pecking order depending on their budget," said Chuck Berry, the agent for Leonard and Maldonado. "They start at the top and work their way down. A player's salary demand might be too high, or they might try to pick someone up in a trade.
"Most of the teams are not in the same situation as the Dodgers, where they're going to be able to get their first pick [Darryl Strawberry]. Guys like Maldonado and Leonard are in there. But I'm sure the Orioles are looking at other people too."
Nick Lampros, the agent for Brunansky, described his talk with Hemond as "very preliminary." It probably was unnecessary as well. The Orioles are not expected to seriously compete for Brunansky, who called Boston's three-year, $5.7 million offer at the All-Star break "an insult."
Brunansky and Cleveland's Maldonado are expected to land substantial three-year deals. Which leaves Leonard, who is five years older at 35, but probably a better value for the Orioles. Unlike the others, his signing would not cost the club a draft pick because of his statistical ranking.
Seattle declined the option on Leonard's contract after he batted .251 with 10 homers and 75 RBIs -- more than every Oriole but Cal Ripken. He switched to glasses Sept. 8, and finished 14-for-25 (.560). In addition, he played for Orioles manager Frank Robinson in San Francisco.
* ALL THEY NEED? Say hello to outfielder Reyenaldo Ignacio "Chito" Martinez, the latest six-year minor-league free agent signed by the Orioles. He's a player worth watching next spring.
Martinez, who turns 25 on Dec. 19, is a lefthanded hitter who batted .264 with 21 homers and 67 RBIs last season for Triple A Omaha in the Kansas City organization.
Those numbers made him one of the most sought-after minor-league free agents, according to Roy Krasik, the Orioles' assistant director of player development and scouting.
He averaged 19 homers and 65 RBIs the last three seasons (two at Double A), and Krasik said he also has a strong arm. The bad news is, Martinez also has averaged 132 strikeouts during that same stretch.
* MEMO TO GREGG OLSON: Hemond spoke Tuesday with the agent for Dwight Evans, who was released by Boston last month. Olson surely would rejoice if his nemesis became a teammate; Evans is 3-for-5 off him with two home runs.
Kidding aside, it's doubtful the Orioles will make a serious run at Evans, who has hit 379 homers, most among active players. Not only is the veteran outfielder 39, he was plagued by a bone spur in his back last summer.
Still, agent Jack Sands said five clubs have expressed serious interest, and why not? Evans could serve as a righthanded designated hitter, and the club that signs him won't lose a draft pick.
The Chicago White Sox have shown the most interest thus far; their batting coach, Walt Hriniak, was Evans' guru in Boston. Sands said Evans received a "clean bill of health" from the White Sox's team doctor last week.
* CATCH AS CATCH CAN: Robinson said last night the Orioles might be interested in adding a lefthanded-hitting veteran catcher if free agent Mickey Tettleton signs with another team.
The loss of Tettleton would leave the Orioles with two catchers who bat right, Bob Melvin and Chris Hoiles. Thus, the signing of a righthanded hitter like Bob Boone is unlikely -- and never mind that Boone is 43.
"I've always liked him, but it changes a bit with Hoiles and Melvin back there," Robinson said. "If Mickey doesn't come back, we'll look for Hoiles to do a lot of catching. Boone would take time from Hoiles."
A lefthanded hitter like free agent Ron Hassey of Oakland would be a better fit. Another possibility in that regard is Ernie Whitt, who was released by Atlanta after batting .138 in an injury-plagued season.
"That would give us a lefthanded bat," Robinson said. "That's why we might have some interest in them -- for when you want to rest Hoiles or Melvin, or not play them against tough righthanders."
4 Both Hassey and Whitt will be 38 on Opening Day.
* MY OLD FRIEND, THE GM: Just as former White Sox seem to always find jobs with Hemond, former Orioles have a way of turning up in Cleveland under Hank Peters.
The latest Orioles refugee to sign with the Indians is lefthander Eric Bell, who went 9-6 with a 4.86 ERA at Rochester last season, then became a minor-league free agent.
Bell, 27, tied Mike Boddicker for the Orioles' team lead with 10 victories in 1987, but underwent reconstructive elbow surgery the following year and has not been the same.
Speaking of the Indians, their farm director, Dan O'Dowd, said the Orioles are indeed seeking to trade for outfielder Cory Snyder.
* STILL TICKING: As promised, the agent for Joe "Walking Time Bomb" Price forwarded Hemond a two-page letter from two northern California back specialists who claim the free-agent lefthander can still pitch despite a bulging disk.
Hemond acknowledged receipt of the letter, and said he would give it to club physician Charles Silberstein. The Orioles declined the $400,000 option year on Price's contract, but Hemond said, "We keep an open mind. Second and third opinions, that all goes with a medical situation."