SARASOTA, Fla. -- The write-in votes are in, and the people's choice for reserve catcher is -- you guessed it -- 42-year-old Rick Dempsey.
"I've gotten a lot of letters from people telling me they want Rick Dempsey to be our No. 2 catcher, but the job is wide-open," Orioles manager John Oates said.
"Rick doesn't have the advantage because of his experience, and Jeff [Tackett] doesn't have it because of his youth. Let them decide it on the field. If it's Rick, Rick will go, but he won't just go on popularity, because you can't win games with popularity."
Oates said he wants to stay out of the catching controversy as much as he can and hopes that a clear-cut decision is made for him by the players involved in the competition. Tackett, Dempsey and fellow non-roster invitee Mark Parent will each get a legitimate look.
"I just hope that it isn't a dead heat," Oates said.
* TRADE TALK: The day after Oates indicated that the club is not in any hurry to trade first baseman Randy Milligan, general manager Roland Hemond said that trade talks with the Montreal Expos have resumed.
The Expos were very interested in Milligan early in the off-season, but pulled back from a possible deal at the winter meetings. Hemond was so upset about the breakdown in negotiations that he broke his self-imposed code of silence on trade matters and took some verbal shots at the Expos.
Now, he is working the phones again, trying to pull something together that will benefit the team and give Milligan a chance to play regularly somewhere. But he said he concurs with Oates in that the club no longer feels the urgency that characterized earlier trade talks.
"We don't have to trade Randy," he said. "You have to look at the situation at the time, and sometimes your needs change."
* CRAMPED CAMP: The Orioles have 22 pitchers in camp, which is a few more than Oates would prefer to have to sort through.
"Ideally, for working groups, 18 to 20 is the ideal number of pitchers to have at spring training," Oates said, "but it was our desire to increase our pitching depth this year, so we have a couple of extra pitchers to look at."
Not that he'll get a real chance to look at all of them. There aren't enough innings in spring training to get a long look at anyone.
"If you ask the pitchers at the end of spring if they got enough of a chance to be evaluated fairly, some aren't going to think so," Oates said. "Not all 22 are going to get enough innings, but you get the look you want."
* NO NEED TO BAT: The truth can now be told. Righthander Rick Sutcliffe signed with the Orioles not because of his burning desire to play in Baltimore, but rather because he wanted to return to the designated-hitter league.
"I love to hit," he said, "but part of the reason I came here was because most of my injury problems have come from swinging the bat. My first bad hamstring strain was from running the bases, and a lot of my shoulder problems were from swinging the bat too hard."
* EARLY ARRIVALS: Outfielder Dwight Evans is showing improvement after opening spring workouts with a sore left calf, but Oates said that he'll remain on a limited schedule of activity.
Second baseman Bill Ripken arrived yesterday afternoon but did not work out.
There are five position players in camp, and the numbers should increase significantly today. "A lot of guys tend to come in after the first weekend," Oates said.