ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Orioles general manager Roland Hemond all but confirmed yesterday that the club will offer free-agent catcher Mickey Tettleton salary arbitration if he still is unsigned by Friday.
By extending Tettleton the offer, the Orioles will retain their right to draft-pick compensation if he joins another team while increasing their chances of signing him to a one-year contract.
Tettleton's agent, Tony Attanasio, insisted again yesterday that his client is drawing interest from clubs, but it seems highly unlikely Tettleton will sign by Friday's arbitration deadline.
"I don't know," Attanasio said. "Things are happening fast and furious. It doesn't make any difference what they [the Orioles] do. There's interest in Mickey Tettleton."
Actually, it does make a difference to Tettleton if the Orioles offer arbitration, for the interest of at least one club (Detroit) might diminish if his signing would result in the loss of draft picks.
As a Type A free agent, Tettleton will cost the club that signs him a first-round pick and sandwich pick between the first and second rounds if the team finished with one of the 13 best records in the majors.
The compensation price would be a second-round pick and a sandwich pick if the team finished with one of the 13 worst records. The Orioles would forfeit all draft picks if they refused to offer arbitration.
That's why Hemond said, "I think you recognize it would make a lot of sense." Attanasio claimed he was not concerned one way or the other. He has threatened to bring a copy of catcher Darren Daulton's three-year, $6.75 million contract into an arbitration hearing.
Tettleton would have to accept the arbitration offer by Dec. 19 to retain his free agency for next year. The Orioles could continue negotiating with him until the date of his arbitration hearing in February.
The other option for Tettleton would be to reject arbitration, which might not be a bad idea, considering Hemond's 9-4 record in hearings. The Orioles would then need to sign him by Jan. 8, or risk losing negotiating rights until May 1.
* DRAFT-DAY BLUES: The Orioles were following standard procedure yesterday when they prepared a press release announcing the selection of Class A outfielder Pat Howell in the major-league draft.
Problem was, Minnesota took Howell first.
As a result, the Orioles lost a gamble with their release of minor-league righthander "Texas" Mike Smith moments before the draft, a move that was necessary because their 40-man roster was full.
Smith, 27, spent most of the past two years at Rochester, pitching only 23 major-league innings. He will clear waivers Thursday, and Cecil Cooper, one of his agents, said the chances of the pitcher returning to the Orioles are "probably not too
Howell, 22, is a switch-hitter who batted .264 and stole 79 bases for the New York Mets' Class A Columbia (S.C.) affiliate last season. The Twins must offer him back to the Mets for half his $50,000 draft price if he does not remain on their roster the entire 1991 season.
"Evidently, we made the right choice," Hemond said.
Alas, Minnesota picked fourth, the Orioles 10th.
* DENNIS THE MENACE: In June of 1986, the Orioles traded righthander Dennis Martinez to Montreal for infielder Rene Gonzales. Yesterday, Martinez signed a three-year, $9.5 million contract to remain with Montreal, waiving his right to new-look free agency.
Martinez is represented by Baltimore attorney Ron Shapiro, who also was the agent for free-agent pitchers Danny Jackson and Mike Boddicker. Assuming Shapiro receives 3 percent commission, the three signings will earn him $870,000. Matt Young will push him over a million.
The next lucrative free-agent contract for a pitcher might go to lefthander Zane Smith, whose agent, Joe Sroba, spoke yesterday with five clubs -- both Chicago teams, Pittsburgh, Boston and Cincinnati.
* DOLLARS, DOLLARS, DOLLARS: The most interesting signing yesterday was the four-year, $13 million deal outfielder Willie McGee reached with San Francisco. The fallout is that the Giants will not pursue their own Brett Butler if he becomes a new-look free agent.
As Giants general manager Al Rosen described it, McGee actually was something of a bargain -- Butler wanted a four-year, $15 million deal. McGee likely will hit second, with Robby Thompson replacing Butler as the Giants' leadoff hitter.
Oakland signed Willie Wilson, 35, to a two-year contract as a possible replacement for McGee early this morning. Wilson had been released by the Royals after 15 seasons.
In other free-agent movement yesterday, third baseman Terry Pendleton signed a four-year, $10.2 million contract with Atlanta, righthander Kevin Gross agreed to a three-year, $6.4 million deal with Los Angeles and righthander Bill Gullickson signed a two-year, $3.8 million deal with Detroit.