On the first day that eligible players could file for free agency, veteran right-hander Rick Sutcliffe told the Orioles -- through his agent -- that he intends to explore his options in the free-agent market.
Agent Barry Axelrod spoke to Orioles general manager Roland Hemond early yesterday and told him that Sutcliffe would test the free-agent market, but Sutcliffe's name did not appear on the list of players to file yesterday because of contract technicality.
"Technically, they have the right to offer Rick arbitration during the first five days of the filing period, but he has a clause in his contract that says he can request that they not do so," Axelrod said. "We sent a letter to them a couple of weeks ago asking them not to, but we still have to wait the five days to actually file. I called them today and said we're going to go ahead and file, but you probably won't see him on the list until Friday."
The filing is a formality. Sutcliffe filed at the earliest opportunity last year and re-signed with the Orioles. Axelrod made it clear that there was nothing antagonistic about the decision to make that intention known on the first day.
"It's pretty much the same situation as last year," he said. "It's procedural. We hope that the Orioles are the first and foremost team we talk to."
The Orioles face a difficult decision on Sutcliffe, who was 10-10 with a 5.75 ERA last year. The club would like to invite him to camp without making a large financial commitment, but it seems likely that the 37-year-old right-hander can do better somewhere else.
"To be honest, I really don't know what the climate out there for Rick will be," Axelrod said. "If it is the Orioles' inclination to offer him a make-good deal in spring training and all other things were equal, I think that Rick would go with the Orioles. But if there is a team out there that is willing to give him a guaranteed contract, he'll have some thinking to do."
The club has some thinking to do on a number of fronts. There are eight players from the 1993 roster who could become free agents by the end of the week. Harold Baines, Tim Hulett, Sutcliffe, Fernando Valenzuela and Mark Williamson are unrestricted. Harold Reynolds, Lonnie Smith and Mike Pagliarulo are governed by "repeater rights," which means that they will become free agents if the Orioles don't offer arbitration in the first five days of the free-agent filing period.
The Orioles are negotiating with Baines. Agent Jack Sands said yesterday that he had not filed for free agency and was not yet planning to do so. The club also is expected to re-sign Hulett and attempt to bring back Pagliarulo, but several others may be passed over to make room on the payroll for the possible acquisition of one or more marquee-caliber players.
First baseman Will Clark was one of the first players mentioned when new Orioles managing general partner Peter Angelos revealed his intention to beef up the offensive lineup, and Clark was one of the first to take advantage of his opportunity to file yesterday.
There has been speculation that Clark will return to the San Francisco Giants, but his first-day filing leaves room to wonder whether he wants to remain in the Bay area. If not, the Orioles are expected to be very interested.
"Right now, all I can say is that we hope everything works out with the Giants," said agent Jeff Moorad, who also represents PTC Orioles Gregg Olson and Jeffrey Hammonds. "I'm not in a position to say anything else right now, but I'm sure I'll be able to tell you a lot more after the filing period is over."
Baseball rules allow a player to negotiate only with his original team during the filing period. Clark can make contact with other clubs, but cannot talk about a contract until Nov. 10. He and Texas Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmeiro are known to be high on the Orioles' wish list.
Following are players who filed. Players with six or more seasons of major-league service whose contracts have expired and who are not bound by repeater rights restrictions may file through Nov. 7:
Boston (2) -- Ernest Riles, 3b; Luis Rivera, ss. Detroit (1) -- Dan Gladden, of. Kansas City (2) -- Greg Cadaret, lhp; Gary Gaetti, 3b. New York (1) -- Lee Smith, rhp. Texas (1) -- Rafael Palmeiro, 1b.
Atlanta (1) -- Otis Nixon, of. Cincinnati (2) -- Chris Sabo, 3b; Juan Samuel, 2b. Colorado (1) -- Andres Galarraga, 1b. Florida (2) -- Henry Cotto, of; Walt Weiss, ss. Houston (1) -- Mark Portugal, rhp. Los Angeles (1) -- Jody Reed, ss. Montreal (1) -- Dennis Martinez, rhp. New York (1) -- Sid Fernandez, lhp. St. Louis (2) -- Lee Guetterman, lhp; Gerald Perry, 1b. San Francisco (2) -- Will Clark, 1b; Jim Deshaies, lhp.