The Baltimore Orioles completed their second major trade in a span of less than 72 hours yesterday, sending catcher Mickey Tettleton to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for right-handed starting pitcher Jeff Robinson.
Tettleton, who hit 26 home runs in 1989 but suffered through a frustrating offensive season last year, was headed for salary arbitration and had to approve the deal. He immediately signed a one-year contract with the Tigers that will pay him $1.6 million next year and preserve his free-agent eligibility the following off-season.
Robinson, 29, was 10-9 (5.96 ERA) in 27 starts for the Tigers last year, but his season was cut short on Aug. 31, when a stress fracture was detected in his right forearm. Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said he considers Robinson a candidate to replace Pete Harnisch, who was traded with two other young players for power-hitting first baseman Glenn Davis late Wednesday night.
The departure of Tettleton clears the way for 25-year-old Chris Hoiles to play regularly behind the plate. But it also appears to benefit Tettleton, who will move into cozy Tiger Stadium and won't have as much competition for playing time as he figured to get in Baltimore.
The acquisition of Davis and the club's desire to play Hoiles and Bob Melvin more often spelled a reduced role in 1991, so Tettleton welcomed the opportunity to move to a club that will use him behind the plate on an everyday basis.
"I can't say it's a surprise," he said. "I think, from my understanding, the time as designated hitter was going to decrease and they wanted Bob to catch more, so this is a great situation for me, my wife Sylvia and Tyler (the couple's newborn son). I wish the Orioles luck, but not too much, since we're in the same division."
"We're thrilled about it," said Tettleton's agent, Tony Attanasio "Detroit was one of the teams Mickey came very close to signing with before he accepted arbitration. I thought I could make a deal for Mickey, but after that, I knew the Orioles would have to come back to us to try and trade him. The arbitration numbers were too strong for them."
Tettleton could have come out of arbitration with a 1991 contract worth more than the Tigers offered, but the Detroit deal was guaranteed. An arbitrated salary is not.
Under the terms of baseball's Basic Agreement, a free agent who files for salary arbitration cannot be traded without his permission until June 15. The Orioles, according to Attanasio, paid Tettleton $50,000 to waive his veto power and accept the trade.
The Tigers had 72 hours to sign him to a contract, but the clock had been ticking for less than a day when Tettleton agreed to terms. His new contract also calls for $50,000 in possible awards bonuses.
Tettleton is expected to bat seventh in a Detroit batting order that includes 1990 home-run champion Cecil Fielder and former Milwaukee Brewers slugger Rob Deer. The combination of Fielder, Tettleton and Deer struck out 489 times last year, but the Tigers seem willing to sacrifice some contact for the added punch.
"I'm glad to get him [Tettleton]," Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said. "He'll do most of the catching. No question, he gives us a lot of power. I think we'll hit as many home runs as anybody. We won't be very fast, but we'll have a lot of power."
Tettleton will replace new-look free agent Mike Heath behind the plate and should get every opportunity to bounce back from a 1990 season in which he set a major-league record for strikeouts by a switch hitter with 160. There was no guarantee that he would play every day in Baltimore, where the emergence of Hoiles and the arrival of Davis and Dwight Evans have led to crowded conditions at catcher, first base and designated hitter.
"It looks like a good situation for Mickey," Hemond said. "With our depth in the DH role -- where Mickey played quite a bit last year -- and Hoiles coming along and [Bob] Melvin signing a two-year contract, we had more need for pitching than another bat."
Hemond agreed that Tettleton might have faced a downturn in playing time next season if he had remained with the Orioles, even though a switch-hitting, power-hitting catcher is something a rarity in baseball.
"I think that's an intelligent analysis," Hemond said. "With the hitters we have -- Randy Milligan, Davis, Sam Horn and David Segui, the number of at-bats that Tettleton got last year at DH would have to be diminished. Our depth as a ballclub has made it possible to make this deal."
Just a month ago, the Orioles were bemoaning their lack of offensive punch. Yesterday, they traded away a player who averaged 20 home runs and 58 RBI the past two seasons. That left room to speculate that the deal was as much an economic move as it was a roster adjustment.