The Baltimore Orioles have offered free-agent catcher Mickey Tettleton the opportunity to have his contract dispute with the club settled through salary arbitration, which means that he will be back next year if he doesn't sign with another team by Dec. 19.
"Now we know one thing for certain," agent Tony Attanasio said. "Mickey will either be under contract to another team or he will be under contract to the Baltimore Orioles by Dec. 19."
Attanasio already had said that he would "under no circumstances" leave Tettleton on the market beyond the deadline for accepting the Orioles' offer. Tettleton apparently has had feelers from several teams, but has not received the multiyear offer he had hoped for when he filed for free agency in early November.
"This is just a date that is on the free-agent calendar," Orioles president Larry Lucchino said. "It's our time to stand up and say what we will do. We're prepared to offer arbitration. Not to do so would jeopardize one of the biggest assets of our organization, and that is our draft choices."
Tettleton is a Type-A free agent, so the Orioles are entitled to at least one compensatory draft pick before the second round if he is signed by another club. If he had not been offered salary arbitration by the deadline yesterday, the Orioles would have forfeited any compensation for his departure.
"When you look at the draft picks we have had -- Gregg Olson, [Ben] McDonald, [Mike] Mussina -- you can see that those picks have obvious value," Lucchino said. "The other thing is that the ball is now in Mickey's court."
The move figures to make it more difficult for Tettleton to get a multiyear deal from another team, but only because he would have been a better buy if draft-choice compensation were no longer required.
"It changes this a little bit -- not a lot," Attanasio said. "All it means is that if we don't have an acceptable deal by Dec. 19, we'll accept [arbitration]."
Attanasio has contended all along that Tettleton would prefer to return to the Orioles and wouldn't mind having his salary determined by an arbitrator. The Orioles have indicated that they would like to sign him to a one-year contract, but the one-year deal he gets through arbitration could cost much more than the estimated $1.3 million the club offered in October.
Tettleton had a frustrating 1990 season, but his overall offensive numbers were not significantly different from those of Philadelphia Phillies catcher Darren Daulton, who signed a three-year contract worth $6.75 million a month ago.
That contract undoubtedly will be one of the exhibits that Attanasio places in front of the arbitrator, who will have to choose between salary figures submitted by Tettleton and by the club. But a high percentage of arbitration cases never make it to a hearing, because the salary figures have to be exchanged well in advance and the system is set up to give both sides plenty of time to reach a compromise.
The uncertainty of the outcome usually provides motivation for reaching a settlement.
Attanasio said recently that he welcomes the process, because Tettleton would come out of it with a fair salary and another shot at the free-agent market next year.