Free-agent market still doing little business

November 20, 1990|By Peter Schmuck

The wait goes on. The free-agent market, once a bustling example of baseball prosperity, has done surprisingly little business in the two weeks since the bidding was supposed to begin.

There have been some scattered signings. Darryl Strawberry got a five-year deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Catcher Darren Daulton re-signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. Pitcher Bud Black got $10 million over four years from the San Francisco Giants. Yesterday, Tim Leary became only the fourth free agent to sign a multi-year contract when he got $5.95 million for three years to return to the New York Yankees.

That's it. There are more than 80 free agents still unaccounted for, including Mickey Tettleton and at least a couple of dozen other front-line players. Though there were indications that business might pick up this week -- and the Leary signing could be a sign of things to come -- the market remains soft.

"I think there are a number of things going on," said Tony Attanasio, who represents Tettleton and several other free agents. "Right now, you've got a lot of teams concentrating on re-signing their own players and wondering what's going to happen with the new-look guys. Two general managers told me today that they have a strong interest in Mickey and Charlie Hough and Kevin Gross, but they have to wait and see what happens with their own guys."

If that is the case, then Tettleton is caught in the middle, since the Orioles have made no attempt to improve on the one-year contract (believed to be worth about $1.3 million) they offered him in October. There has been no contact between Attanasio and the Orioles since the free-agent filing period ended Nov. 4.

In the meantime, the club's interest in other free agents appeared to increase, and there was speculation that offers would be made to at least one starting pitcher and one run-producing outfielder. But as of late yesterday, the Orioles had not gotten back in touch with the agent for first baseman/outfielder Franklin Stubbs or made their intentions clear concerning several other players on their shopping list.

General manager Roland Hemond said yesterday that the team had put the free-agent situation on hold temporarily to work on the 40-man roster, which must be finalized by midnight.

The Orioles promoted pitcher Mike Linsky to the major-league roster yesterday, leaving two spots open. Hemond indicated that the club would fill the roster by this afternoon, but these are not decisions that the front office takes lightly. Players left unprotected can be claimed by other clubs in the Rule V draft in December.

The roster situation provides still another excuse for the tepid free-agent activity, but the Orioles already have laid the groundwork for more serious free agent negotiations. The question is whether they will take the next step and spend the necessary millions to restructure the club for 1991.

Club officials have confirmed their interest in a left-handed starter and a power hitter, but until there are some specific contract offers, there is no way to gauge that interest or even determine if it is sincere.

Attanasio speculates that the Orioles entered the off-season hoping that a depressed free-agent market would work in their favor, but the giant contract signed early on by Daulton priced them right out of the market for Tettleton. Now, the contracts signed by Black and Leary have set a new standard for .500 pitchers, which doesn't auger well for the Orioles and their attempt to add a left-handed starter.

The search for a run-producing outfielder apparently has centered on Stubbs, but agent Jim Turner said yesterday that he had received only one offer and it had not come from the Orioles.

"I'm waiting to hear from them," he said. "We were offered a three-year guaranteed contract by one club on Friday, but we are anxious to hear from the Orioles and some other clubs."

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