ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Mickey Tettleton's agent said yesterday that the free-agent catcher will strongly consider accepting the Orioles' offer of salary arbitration, pending the outcome of contract talks with one other club.
The chances of Tettleton returning to Baltimore are now better than ever. By accepting the Orioles' offer, he would be agreeing to a one-year contract. His salary would be determined later, through further negotiations or an arbitrator's ruling.
"There's one more thing that has to fall in order for the deal we're looking for to be made," said Tettleton's agent, Tony Attanasio. "If that happens, there's nothing Baltimore can do. If that doesn't happen, then we'll decide whether to go to the table or not."
Attanasio declined to name the interested team, but he said Tettleton would not sign by tomorrow, the deadline for the Orioles to offer him arbitration. That is the course the club has said it would follow, preserving its right to draft-pick compensation.
Tettleton will have 12 days to accept the offer and retain his free agency for next year. The Orioles could then continue negotiating with him until the date of his arbitration hearing in February.
Keeping Tettleton would enable the Orioles to trade Bob Melvin and make rookie Chris Hoiles the backup. A Texas club official said the Rangers would have interest in Melvin, a five-year veteran with excellent defensive skills.
It's unlikely Tettleton would reject arbitration without a substantial contract proposal from another club. If he dismissed the arbitration offer, the Orioles would need to sign him by Jan. 8, or lose negotiating rights until May 1.
* BELL FAMILY UPDATE: General manager Roland Hemond conceded yesterday that the Orioles were going nowhere with free-agent outfielder George Bell (that's news?), but manager Frank Robinson had some interesting comments about Bell's brother Juan, the Orioles' Triple A shortstop the past two years.
"He can't go back to Triple A," Robinson said, claiming Bell has now advanced beyond that level. "We're not here to push Juan Bell off this ballclub. Some people have asked about him. We've asked people about him.
"We understand the situation with Cal [Ripken], but Juan Bell can play shortstop in the major leagues right now. If we don't trade him, Juan Bell will be back with us. He can't go back [to Rochester]."
Bell, 22, is a switch-hitter who batted .285 with six homers and 35 RBIs for Rochester last season. He likely will remain with the Orioles as a utility infielder if he is not traded, meaning there will be one less job for a group consisting of Rene Gonzales, Jeff McKnight and Tim Hulett.
* DOLLARS, DOLLARS, DOLLARS: Six free agents agreed to contracts yesterday. The most notable was outfielder Vince Coleman, who reached a four-year, $11.95 million deal with the New York Mets. Evidently, he just wasn't worth $12 million.
Coleman will play leftfield for the Mets, with Kevin McReynolds moving to right. "I told him, 'On behalf of my catchers I welcome you to New York,' " Mets manager Bud Harrelson said. Coleman stole 57 straight bases against the Mets before his streak ended last year.
The other signings: lefthander Teddy Higuera with Milwaukee (four years, $13 million), second baseman Bill Doran with Cincinnati (three years, $7.4 million), first baseman/outfielder Franklin Stubbs from Houston to Milwaukee (three years, $6 million) and first baseman Sid Bream from Pittsburgh to Atlanta (three years, $5.6 million).
Now that Doran will return, the Reds are likely to trade second baseman Mariano Duncan. They also might sign one more free agent -- lefthander Zane Smith. If not, they might try to land the Mets' Bob Ojeda for either Todd Benzinger or Glenn Braggs.
For the Brewers, Stubbs amounts to a replacement for Rob Deer in rightfield. But he could wind up at first base if the oft-injured Paul Molitor makes his annual trip to the disabled list. Molitor is expected to replace Greg Brock, who is very available.
* AROUND THE HORN: The American League voted to allow six coaches in uniform next season, while the National League voted to keep five. The Orioles employ six coaches, but Curt Motton charted games in street clothes from behind home plate.
One final note on The Trade: Roberto Alomar bought a house in San Diego two months ago, Joe Carter bought one last summer. Alomar's agent, Scott Boras, told him he broke a cardinal rule in baseball -- "Never buy a house. You'll be traded the next year."