Extended talks probable Olson


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Contract negotiations have begun in earnest between the Baltimore Orioles and the agent for relief pitcher Gregg Olson, but it appears that it is going to take some time to reach a compromise.

Olson is one of the top players in his service class, but this is the last year that the club can try to keep a lid on his salary without the threat of salary arbitration.

"We had our first serious discussions [Friday]," said agent Jeff Moorad from his San Francisco office. "There was a conference call with me in San Francisco, Lon Babby [Orioles counsel] in Washington and Roland Hemond in Florida. We exchanged some ideas and a couple of proposals."

The Orioles apparently have expressed a willingness to sign Olson to a two-year contract, but Moorad said that determining a fair price will be difficult and agreeing on one might be even tougher.

"Gregg is a unique player, in the sense of what he has achieved in his first two years," Moorad said. "He was Rookie of the Year, and he's an All-Star. There isn't another pitcher like that in his service class."

Salary comparisons are difficult because of the changing economics of baseball as well as the new rules governing salary arbitration. Olson will not be eligible for arbitration until next year, but two players in his two-year class -- Mark Grace and Ron Gant -- each signed for more than $1 million this year.

Moorad said that no specific two-year proposal was discussed, but he pointed to the $635,000 earned by Boston Red Sox outfielder Ellis Burks last year and his arbitration-aided $1.825 million salary this year as numbers that would be relevant to the discussion of a two-year deal.

Olson figures to end up with a one-year contract in the $600,000- $700,000 range, though the Orioles seem determined to hold down his salary as much as they can while they can.

* Third baseman Craig Worthington was in uniform for the Orioles' second spring workout, even though he was not required to report for another two days.

This is noteworthy only because Worthington made a poor impression on the coaching staff last spring, when he reported several days late.

"I'm glad to see him here," manager Frank Robinson said, "but it's not that big a thing. It's good to see guys report early because it shows they are anxious to get to work, but it wouldn't have bothered me if he had showed up with everyone else."

Worthington did not face any competition last year. He was coming off a strong rookie season and there were not any other strong third-base candidates. This time, he is coming off a disappointing season and promising Leo Gomez is expected to press him for playing time.

* Outfielder Larry Sheets also was an early arrival yesterday. He is in camp as a non-roster player, but stands a good chance of making a club that has only four true outfielders on the roster.

Sheets reportedly turned down a two-year offer from a Japanese team to return to Baltimore even though he got no guarantees from the Orioles.

* Left-hander Kevin Hickey had a tough time staying in the major leagues last year, but he claims to be a leaner, meaner pitching machine this spring.

"I'm 11 pounds lighter and I'm in the best shape of my life," he said. "I think [the left-handed setup role] is my job to lose. You have to think of it as your job, then fight tooth and nail to keep it."

Hickey, who will turn 35 tomorrow, could face competition from Mike Flanagan and Paul Kilgus, both of whom were brought in to provide left-handed depth. Jeff Ballard also might be a candidate if he does not start the season in the rotation.

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