Orioles expected to pitch rather than give Olson free pass

December 19, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

A second wave of free agents will go on baseball's open market tomorrow, but Orioles closer Gregg Olson isn't expected to be among them.

Early indications are there will be a number of players, most in the $1 million-$3 million salary range, who will not be offered contracts by their major-league clubs by tomorrow's deadline. Those who aren't tendered become unrestricted free agents who can negotiate with any club.

Reliever Todd Frohwirth is the only Oriole who appears certain to be included in that category. There has been some speculation that Olson, who missed the last two months of last season with a ligament tear in his right elbow, might not get an offer until the club gets definitive word about the extent of the injury. But his agent said yesterday he didn't believe it was an issue.

"We've had a steady dialogue about Gregg, but we haven't even discussed that [the possibility of not being tendered a contract]," said Jeff Moorad, who represents Olson. "There really isn't much to report [on the status of negotiations].

"Basically, we've had general discussions about what Gregg's contract will be like for the next several years. Other than getting current health appraisals, that has been our focus."

Olson took his second off-season physical Friday and is scheduled to be examined later in the month by Los Angeles orthopedic specialist Dr. Frank Jobe. The Orioles will wait for the outcome of both examinations before negotiations get serious, but it would be a gamble for them to risk losing Olson by not making at least a qualifying offer.

"The Orioles want to take care of Gregg," said a club official who did not want to be identified. "But I think Gregg has to realize he can't get a big, long-term contract right now.

"I don't think any team in baseball would do that without more assurances. But I think they [the Orioles and Olson] will get it done."

Olson said there was "nothing much to report right now. They've been talking and some figures have been exchanged, but that's all so far."

Olson made $2.3 million last year, and under baseball's basic agreement, he has to make at least 80 percent of that -- $1.84 million -- next year.

Had it not been for the injury, Olson would be in a stronger position. He will have enough major-league service after next season to be a free agent and, despite his problems, he was close to a 40-save pace before finishing with 29 saves and a 1.60 ERA last year.

In five seasons with the Orioles, Olson has 160 saves, the most ever for someone his age (27), and has a career ERA of 2.26. Despite a poor start, he matched his career average by converting 83 percent of his save opportunities.

Meanwhile, Frohwirth appears caught in the same situation that trapped Mark Williamson a year ago. After appearing in 114 games the previous two seasons, Williamson's salary more than doubled to $1 million. Injuries restricted him to 12 games, and he wasn't tendered a contract after the 1992 season. He eventually settled for a two-thirds pay cut for 1993 and was among the players to whom the Orioles declined to offer arbitration two months ago.

In addition to Olson and Frohwirth, six other Orioles are eligible for arbitration, but all are expected to be tendered before the deadline: outfielders Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux, pitchers Ben McDonald and Jamie Moyer, catcher Chris Hoiles and third baseman Leo Gomez.

Frohwirth's salary nearly tripled (to $900,000) after he posted a 4-3 record with a 2.46 ERA in 1992. His numbers dropped to 6-7 and 3.83 in 1993, and the Orioles won't let the right-hander go to arbitration.

On Friday, the same day they signed second baseman Mark McLemore to a one-year deal worth $1 million plus incentives, the Orioles reportedly made Frohwirth the same kind of "take it or leave it" offer they made McLemore.

Adam Katz, who represents Frohwirth, reportedly has been told the Orioles will not tender Frohwirth if he rejects the offer. The club hasn't gotten an answer, but Frohwirth is expected to test the open market.

Like most teams, the Orioles are trying to avoid arbitration, even at the risk of losing useful players. It was the hint of arbitration that made the negotiations with McLemore difficult.

"They [the Orioles] are afraid of arbitration," said Tony Attanasio, McLemore's agent. "When we talked we said we preferred a multiyear deal, but if it was one year, that was OK.

"At one point in the conversation there were three of us on the phone, and I said, 'If it's one year, probably none of us will decide what the number [salary] will be.' I was alluding to arbitration, and as soon as those words came out of my lips, it was like the plague hit the Inner Harbor and was moving toward Camden Yards," Attanasio said.

Owners find arbitration distasteful. They can't eliminate it, but in many cases they are willing to take their chances by avoiding it -- as the next wave of free agents will find out tomorrow.

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