It's back to square one for the Orioles and Mickey Tettleton.
The switch-hitting catcher stuck his toe in the free-agent pool and found the temperature on the cool side, so he retreated to the comfort zone. After accepting the Orioles' offer of salary arbitration a few hours before yesterday's midnight deadline, Tettleton in effect agreed to terms for the 1991 season.
What those terms will be remains to be seen. Tony Attanasio, who represents Tettleton, expressed strong doubt that a multi-year agreement could be reached, but indicated he felt the two sides could settle on next year's salary without going through the arbitration process.
"We've accepted [arbitration], and we'll see what happens next year," Attanasio said. "It's not unusual to have this happen. What would be unusual would be for the club to take a real hard-line position."
Attanasio was not talking about arbitration, but negotiation. "I would hope they take a hard-line position in arbitration," he said, an obvious reference to the $6.7 million, three-year contract Darren Daulton recently signed with Philadelphia that has set a standard of sorts for catchers without a prolonged track record.
"Now that this [arbitration] has happened -- OK -- let's sit down and say 'this is what we want,' " said Attanasio. Asked if he felt a settlement could be reached without going to arbitration (something the Orioles haven't done since Billy Smith lost in 1978), Attanasio said: "That would be nice for Mickey, and I think for the club."
"That is the next move in the process," said Orioles president Larry Lucchino, when asked if negotiations would resume before mid-January's arbitration deadline.
Lucchino was asked if there was any possibility the Orioles, who stuck to a one-year proposal throughout the latter stages of these negotiations, would reconsider a multi-year contract. "I don't want to discuss that," said Lucchino. "It's something I would discuss with Tony."
Attanasio left no doubt he felt such a possibility was remote. "I don't think there's any chance of that, based on what I've heard," he said. "We wouldn't object to it, but based on what's transpired between the negotiating parties I don't think that will happen.
"We're certainly not unhappy [with arbitration]," said Attanasio. "There's some disappointment at not getting a multi-year contract, but there is no negative reaction. There are no ill feelings.
"Mickey feels somewhat -- I don't want to say obligated -- but appreciative of the fact that Baltimore gave him an opportunity [signing him to a minor-league contract after Oakland released him in the spring of 1988]."
By agreeing to arbitration, Tettleton retains free agency rights for next year. But while Daulton's signing with the Phillies may increase his bargaining power at the arbitration table, Attanasio feels it hurt his client in this year's market.
"There was a negative reaction to the Daulton signing," said Attanasio. "A great many people were saying catchers shouldn't be getting that kind of contract."
Tettleton reportedly made $750,000 last year, when he bypassed the opportunity to go to arbitration. Despite hitting .223, with 15 home runs (after hitting 26 in 1989), Tettleton figures to get at least a $500,000 raise, and probably more.
The Orioles, after earlier proposing a multi-year contract, had a $1.3 million offer for 1991 on the table before, and during, Tettleton's journey into the free-agent market. The team and player have until mid-January to submit salary figures. If a settlement is not negotiated, an arbitrator will determine the salary without compromise -- picking one figure or the other. Assuming the Orioles stay with the offer they had on the table, the difference figures to be about $500,000, which is the amount of money the two sides will negotiate prior to an arbitration hearing.
"The fact is that Mickey is now a signed player who can't be traded prior to June 15 without his permission," said Attanasio.
That, basically, leaves Tettleton and the Orioles where they were last year -- one more year together, a healthy raise, an uncertain future, and some intensive negotiations.
Meanwhile, the Orioles' discussions about a possible trade for Houston Astros first baseman Glenn Davis are likely to be recessed until after the first of the year. The two teams have been talking for almost three weeks, and discussions apparently intensified in the last few days.
Both general managers, Roland Hemond of the Orioles and Bill Woods of the Astros, are taking holiday vacations, a time when most of baseball shuts down. The discussions have progressed beyond the preliminary stage, and are certain to continue next month.
It could be up to the Orioles to decide if they're willing to trade three or four young players (Randy Milligan, Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling, Steve Finley and Arthur Rhodes are among those who have been mentioned) for a slugger who has only one year before being eligible for free agency.