The agent for free-agent catcher Mickey Tettleton said yesterday that the number of teams with serious interest in his client has increased to five and possibly six. Yet he also said it was "not out of the realm of possibility" that Tettleton would return to the Orioles.
The agent, Tony Attanasio, clearly is leaving all of his options open, and for good reason. Though demand for Tettleton, 30, appears to be rising, there still is no guarantee he will receive the type of multi-year contract he is seeking.
Thus, the possibility remains he will accept a one-year deal with the Orioles through salary arbitration, thereby retaining his free agency for next year. But the plot thickens each day, and the Orioles surely are growing concerned.
According to sources, the list of teams pursuing Tettleton includes World Series opponents Cincinnati and Oakland, as well as Atlanta and Detroit. Attanasio said the six-year veteran has received contract offers, but declined to say how many or from which clubs.
The Orioles apparently are aware of the sudden interest in Tettleton; Attanasio spoke yesterday with team president Larry Lucchino. Still, Attanasio said the club has not abandoned its goal of signing Tettleton for one year. Lucchino was unavailable for comment.
"I told Lucchino that Baltimore was not out of the realm of possibility -- Mickey really enjoys it there," Attanasio said. "But if the numbers are overwhelming [from another club] and he can't possibly make a decision otherwise, that's life.
"If the numbers are not overwhelming, then there's always the possibility of arbitration. And if they want to arbitrate with Mickey, I'll just bring in [Darren] Daulton's contract and say, 'I rest.' "
Daulton, the other ranking free-agent catcher, re-signed with Philadelphia for $6.75 million over three years. A lefthanded hitter, his 1990 statistics (.268, 12 HRs, 57 RBIs) were comparable to the switch-hitting Tettleton's (.223, 15, 51). But he began the season with 24 career homers. Tettleton hit 26 in 1989.
The Orioles are gambling Tettleton will remain unsigned through the winter meetings, which begin Saturday in Chicago. They then would be required to offer him arbitration by Dec. 7 -- one day after the meetings end -- to preserve their rights to draft-pick compensation.
The question now is whether Tettleton will receive an acceptable offer before then. Cincinnati appears to be a genuine possibility. Atlanta might be, too. But the degree of interest in Oakland and Detroit hinges on other factors.
A closer look at those teams:
* Cincinnati: Why would the world champions want to invest $6 million to $7 million in another free agent when they just re-signed lefthander Tom Browning to a four-year, $12.48 million deal? Because they're not satisfied with their catching platoon of Joe Oliver and Jeff Reed.
Oliver was a World Series hero (6-for-18, three doubles, one RBI) and Benito Santiago might be the only NL catcher with a better arm. But he and Reed combined for just 11 homers and 68 RBIs in the regular season. Tettleton could help improve that production.
The odd man out probably would be the lefthanded-hitting Reed. Tettleton would play against righties, Oliver against lefties. And in two years or so, the Reds could promote their No. 1 pick in the 1990 draft, Dan Wilson.
* Atlanta: Catcher Greg Olson made the All-Star team last season, but only because the NL was short a receiver and someone from the Braves had to be selected. Unimpressed, Atlanta wound up using six catchers. Olson played the most, batting .262 with seven homers and 36 RBIs.
A source in Atlanta said Tuesday that the Braves had not yet contacted Attanasio about Tettleton, but another source confirmed their interest yesterday. New general manager John Schuerholz reportedly is pursuing a number of free agents, including one coveted by the Orioles, first baseman/outfielder Franklin Stubbs.
Tettleton could thrive in Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, which is considered a hitter's park. As for money, it shouldn't be a problem. Braves owner Ted Turner has plenty from CNN, and he could always borrow some more from his significant other, Jane Fonda.
* Oakland: This is the team that released Tettleton in 1988. The team that fears a $30 million payroll. The team that re-signed free-agent catcher Jamie Quirk on Tuesday. Why are the A's even interested? "Maybe they want to move [Terry] Steinbach," a source said.
Steinbach, a righthanded hitter, beat out Tettleton to become the A's No. 1 catcher in '88, and batted .251 with nine homers and 57 RBIs last season. Those numbers might seem adequate, but Steinbach drew only 19 walks. Tettleton drew 106. Both are considered average defensively.
Tettleton probably would like to return to Oakland, but the A's are trying to re-sign two prominent free agents of their own, pitcher Bob Welch and outfielder Dave Henderson. They might even try to keep Willie McGee if the reports on Jose Canseco's back are not encouraging.
* Detroit: Imagine a lineup featuring Tettleton (160 strikeouts), Cecil Fielder (182) and Rob Deer (147). Detroit could proclaim itself the real Windy City, and manager Sparky Anderson probably would retire by May.
Kidding aside, the Tigers' interest probably is not as serious as the others. They've already signed Deer as a free agent, and general manager Bill Lajoie has said he doesn't want to lose any more draft picks. Pitchers are exceptions. Welch reportedly is high on his list.
Tettleton will become a non-compensation free agent only if the Orioles don't offer him arbitration. That isn't likely, but the Tigers are worried about losing Mike Heath as a new-look free agent. As always in a baseball winter, things could change.