While four clubs engaged in a $38 million spending spree, the Orioles quietly made contract offers to two free agents on Wednesday -- first baseman/outfielder Franklin Stubbs and lefthander Matt Young.
The offers, confirmed by the players' agents, are the strongest indication yet of the Orioles' willingness to acquire high-priced talent under the ownership group headed by Eli Jacobs.
Neither Stubbs nor Young is considered a premium free agent, but the way the market is exploding, each figures to command three-year deals in the $6 million range.
The amount of money offered by the Orioles is not known, but Jim Turner, the agent for Stubbs, said the proposal was for three years. Young's offer is believed to be for the same duration.
Turner said he was "pleased with the beginning stages" of his negotiations with the Orioles, adding, "I'm anxiously looking forward to continuing my talks with them."
Club officials were unavailable for comment Wednesday after scattering for Thanksgiving. They initially contacted more than a dozen free agents, then zeroed in on players they believe they can afford.
Turner received his first offer for Stubbs a week ago. He said he expected three to four more. Stubbs, 30, is a lefthanded hitter who batted .261 with 23 home runs and 71 RBIs for Houston last season.
The bidding for Young, 32, might be even more intense. Three other free-agent lefthanders -- Tom Browning, Danny Jackson and Bud Black -- all signed four-year contracts worth at least $10 million.
Young is not as accomplished as those pitchers; he finished 8-1with a 3.51 ERA for Seattle last season. But along with Fernando Valenzuela and Teddy Higuera, he is now one of the top lefthanded starters available.
Browning and Jackson signed Wednesday, the same darighthander Mike Boddicker accepted a three-year, $9 million deal with Kansas City and outfielder Rob Deer a three-year, $6.05 million deal with Detroit.
Those contracts could trigger additional signings next week, buplayers like Stubbs and Young might not reach their decisions until the winter meetings, which begin in Chicago a week from tomorrow.
Turner said last week that Stubbs received serious inquiries frosix teams, three in each league. Young said Tuesday he drew preliminary interest from more than 10 clubs.
"My guess is it will take a little bit of time," said Michael Maaswho represents Young along with Baltimore-based attorney Ron Shapiro. "But there's no way of telling."
The same is true for Stubbs, who could benefit from the Deesigning. Stubbs has less of a track record than Deer (23 or more homers the past five seasons) but he's coming off a career year -- in the Astrodome, no less.
Deer, 30, batted .209 with 27 homers, 69 RBIs -- and 146 strikeouts. Stubbs began the year with a .227 lifetime average, and has never had 500 at-bats in a season. But he also hit 23 homers for Los Angeles in 1986.
The Orioles also have expressed interest in free-agent outfielders Tom Brunansky and Jeffrey Leonard, but their pursuit of Stubbs apparently is with an eye toward the future -- specifically, their new downtown stadium at Camden Yards.
The Orioles' interest in Stubbs dates to last spring, when they tried to acquire him in a trade. Stubbs, then with Los Angeles, was eventually sent to Houston for minor-league lefthander Terry Wells.
Poor record aside, Young also enjoyed a breakthrough season, bouncing back from reconstructive elbow surgery to rank among the AL leaders in innings (225 1/3 ), complete games (7) and strikeouts (176).
The signing of either player would fill a major hole for the Orioles, who are trying to add a hard-throwing lefthanded reliever in addition to a run-producing hitter and lefthanded starter.
On the other hand, the failure to sign both would put them back at Square One, forcing team officials to consider making offers for other free agents as well as a series of new trade proposals.