LOS ANGELES -- The Orioles dispensed with a little more off-season business yesterday, signing right-handed reliever Alan Mills and utility infielder Jeff Huson to one-year contracts.
Mills (3-0, 7.43 ERA), who was sidelined much of last season by a shoulder injury, agreed to a slight pay cut, accepting a base salary of $540,000 with incentives that will allow him to equal his 1995 salary of $600,000.
Huson (.248 in 161 at-bats), got a modest raise, signing for $320,000, with incentives that could move him up significantly if the club needs him to play more than a utility role.
"We wanted to be fair," said Orioles assistant general manager ++ Kevin Malone, who negotiated both contracts. "In Alan's case, we gave him the chance to get back to what he made last year. We thought that was fair for a guy who pitched minimally last year.
"Jeff's contract is based on how he will contribute. He's being paid as a role player, but if he plays more than that, based on games started and games played, he'll get the chance to make more."
Malone and general manager Pat Gillick expressed optimism that Mills will be able to re-establish himself as an effective middle reliever. His return would add even more experience to a bullpen that has been upgraded with the acquisition of free-agent closer Randy Myers and setup man Roger McDowell.
Myers, McDowell and left-hander Jesse Orosco should give the Orioles plenty of protection in the late innings, but the remaining spots in the bullpen loom as important. Mills will compete for one of those roles. So will Arthur Rhodes, Mark Lee, Armando Benitez, Rick Krivda and minor-league free agent Alvie Shepherd.
"We feel better about the middle and back end of our bullpen today than we did at the end of the season," Gillick said.
Benitez, 23, still is projected to be a possible closer eventually, but manager Davey Johnson is expected to use him in less stressful situations until he matures. The Orioles found out last year that he was not ready to accept the responsibility of a late-inning role, and risked damaging his psyche when things went badly.
"Possibly, he'll be put into a role that is going to make him more comfortable," Gillick said. "It's not necessarily bad to go through some tough times, but hopefully, he'll be in a role that we think he can handle."
Gillick has spent the past couple of days talking with other GMs at the quarterly owners meetings at the Biltmore Hotel, but he said again yesterday that the Orioles aren't likely to be involved in any significant player transactions. He's still looking for
catching depth, but might wait until spring training to address that need.
The most pressing business facing the front office is the unsettled contract situations of arbitration candidates Scott Erickson, Kent Mercker and Rhodes. The club must exchange salary figures with them tomorrow, but still has time to settle with each and avoid the unpleasantness of an arbitration showdown.
NOTES: Player development director Syd Thrift leaves today for Australia, where he'll visit the Orioles' Australian League affiliate in Perth. . . . Gillick held court for the national media yesterday, and expressed support for ownership's interleague play proposal, but said he would not like to see the designated hitter eliminated. He said he would like to see it expanded to the National League, but doesn't think that will happen because NL owners are "less flexible." Gillick also expressed support for the concept of a worldwide draft to give small-market teams a better chance to compete for international talent.