The Baltimore Orioles chose not to exercise their option on Ron Kittle's contract yesterday, thereby freeing the right-handed power hitter to seek a job elsewhere in baseball.
Kittle, who acts as his own agent, must contact the Major League Players Association to become a free agent.
"With the addition of Dwight Evans, we wouldn't be able to give Kittle the same opportunities he had," said general manager Roland Hemond. "Doing this is basically like trading Kittle for Evans.
"In the spring, Frank [Robinson, manager] would find it difficult to give everybody the necessary at-bats to get ready."
The Orioles also made a minor-league trade yesterday, sending right-handed pitcher Mickey Weston to the Toronto Blue Jays for left-hander Paul Kilgus.
Hemond said Kittle's name has been mentioned in recent trade talks with other teams, "but nothing ever materialized."
Nothing ever materialized in the brief Orioles career of Kittle, who was acquired July 30 in a deal for outfielder Phil Bradley.
Kittle did not appear in a game after Sept. 15, after a 22-game trial as a designated hitter and first baseman. He batted .164 with two home runs in 64 at-bats.
Before the trade, he was leading the Chicago White Sox with 16 homers, but he arrived in Baltimore with an injured groin muscle and never got on track.
"It was unfortunate the way things happened because of the pulled groin," said Hemond. "He didn't get many at-bats because of it."
Kittle, who will be 33 on Jan. 5, was unavailable for comment yesterday, but he said previously that he was not happy sitting on the bench through the final three weeks of last season.
His contract calls for approximately $600,000 for 1991, making him a bargain in today's high-priced free-agent market.
Kilgus, 28, will be assigned to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, and Weston will go to the roster of the Class AA Knoxville Blue Jays because Toronto has no space with the Class AAA Syracuse Chiefs.
Kilgus, 20-32 lifetime with the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs, was 0-0 with a 6.06 ERA for the Blue Jays last season. He was 6-8 with a 2.84 ERA (fifth in the International League) with Syracuse.
He has been a starter and reliever.
Weston was 11-1 with a 1.98 ERA for the Red Wings, but was 7 2/3 innings short of qualifying for the ERA title.
He was recalled three times to the Orioles, but had only one decision -- a 12-4 loss to the California Angels in a start. In 21 innings, he allowed six home runs, and opponents hit .322 against him.
* It appears that veteran reliever Joe Price will be playing elsewhere next season.
Price, 3-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 50 Orioles appearances in 1990, was not offered arbitration by the team, and, according to Hemond, the chances of re-signing him "are dead, more than likely. He couldn't be playing here until May 1."
Concern about the condition of Price's back led him to seek a second medical opinion, which "encouraged him, but we never reached an agreement," said Hemond. "And we have other left-handers in the organization."
The Orioles did not renew their option on Price's contract two months ago.
Price said he "would love to sign with the Orioles" and for about $600,000 (including incentives), which he considers a bargain. The base salary of $200,000 has been the sticking point.
"Ken Dayley signed [with Toronto] for $6.3 million for three years, and his stats were practically the same as mine," Price said. "I thought I had a real good year. Of 50 inherited runners, only nine scored against me. That's in the top three in the league."
Price said he was examined in San Francisco by Dr. Arthur White, who discovered a bulging disk, but "you could find the same thing in most of the pitchers in the big leagues."
"They want to make an issue of my back," he said, "and I've done everything I can to prove it's a non-issue. I wish Roland would call me, so we can talk things out. But in their minds, I guess they have to save face."
Several other teams are interested in Price, who pitched in 30 games last year after 15 days on the disabled list.
* The San Diego Padres' acquisition of infielder Scott Coolbaugh may have slowed their quest for Orioles third baseman Craig Worthington.
Hemond said, "There is nothing pending" on that trade front, but "it's for them to determine" whether Coolbaugh is a utility man, not a regular third baseman.
San Diego general manager Joe McIlvaine has been quoted as saying that the Coolbaugh deal with Texas "doesn't stop our pursuit for a third baseman."
That means talks with the Orioles could be continuing. The names mentioned in return for Worthington are left-handed starter Derek Lilliquist (5-11, 5.31 with the Atlanta Braves and Padres last year) and either left-handed reliever Rich Rodriguez (1-1, 2.83 with San Diego) or right-hander Rafael Valdez, a converted infielder.
Former Orioles scouting director John Barr is the assistant general manager for San Diego.