Orioles, Olson remain hopeful of teaming up again

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Despite being unable to close a deal before Monday's midnight deadline, both sides expressed hope yesterday that the Orioles would be able to re-sign Gregg Olson.

However, it is unlikely such an agreement can be reached without Olson getting an idea of his value on the free-agent market.

If healthy, Olson would be the most attractive player made available Monday. The New York Yankees and New York Mets were among the teams that expressed cautious interest in him yesterday.

His numbers -- 29 saves in a little over half a season in 1993 and the most (160) by someone his age (27) in baseball history -- are offset by his questionable physical condition.

He missed the last two months of the 1993 season with a torn elbow ligament. The Orioles are concerned their ace closer may not be ready to pitch next season, and may require surgery, but Olson feels his rehabilitation is progressing on schedule.

As a five-year veteran, Olson would've been eligible to go to arbitration had the Orioles tendered him a contract. He earned $2.3 million last year and under rules of baseball's basic agreement, the Orioles had to offer at least 80 percent of that amount ($1.84 million) or allow Olson to become a free agent.

Although specific details are not known, the Orioles tried to put together an incentive-laden package that would satisfy Olson -- and enable the club to avoid the arbitration process. However, negotiations broke down three hours before Monday's deadline.

"We tried to get something done where we wouldn't have to say that we weren't tendering Gregg a contract," said assistant general manager Doug Melvin.

In relation to the offer made by the Orioles, Olson's agent, Jeff Moorad, said that arbitration was a factor.

"I don't believe 80 percent [of last year's salary] was an issue. [The possibility of] arbitration became the sensitive area and that was the reason our talks broke down.

"All things being equal, Gregg would prefer to stay in Baltimore," said Moorad. "It is our intention over the next couple of weeks to continue to talk to the Orioles on a contract satisfactory to both sides.

". . . At the same time, we also realize that the door to free agency has been cracked open, as evidenced by some teams that called today [yesterday] to make inquiries about Gregg."

Olson declined to talk about the specifics of the talks. "They [the Orioles] said they were going to work hard to get something done," he said. "I guess that's the next step.

"I guess I was somewhat surprised [by not being tendered], but yet, not totally. I understand what's going on. There just seems to be some mix-up between the team and Jeff and myself about my condition. I'm just hoping something can get done, but I don't really want to say any more until then," Olson said.

Owner Peter Angelos and Melvin spent most of Monday in discussions with Moorad. But as the deadline approached, they ran out of time.

"We couldn't get everything completed," said Melvin. "Time was a problem -- maybe we could've started a little earlier, but we still want to get it done.

"He took the ball in 1989 and played a big part in helping this organization to turn around. But at the same time there are some risks involved. I told Gregg to please not take this personally."

Olson has been examined twice since the end of the season, most recently Friday. The initial report was that the ligament had shown evidence of improvement. Melvin said the results of the latest exam, which have not been revealed, were not a significant factor.

"The main thing is that Gregg still hasn't thrown a ball yet," he said. "And there are concerns as to what a player can make in arbitration. If you tender at $1.84 million, that's just your starting point. That could go up to $3.5 million [in arbitration]. I think everybody realizes there are some risks from both sides."

Yankees general manager Gene Michael and Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine told The New York Times yesterday that they are interested in Olson -- depending on the status of his elbow.

"We're going to look at him, but Baltimore knows him better than we do," Michael said. "I know they had a big concern. If they thought he was OK, they wouldn't have let him go. If they felt he was all right, they would've taken him to arbitration or signed him. Obviously, they think there's a good chance he isn't ready."

Angelos deferred most questions about the negotiations to Melvin, who is filling in for vacationing general manager Roland Hemond. But the owner did emphasize a desire to keep Olson in Baltimore.

"I feel we're going to accomplish what we set out to do," Angelos said, "and that is to work out a fair and equitable arrangement that both sides can live with. He's special to this club and we want to keep him in an Orioles uniform.

"But there are some medical realities that can't be ignored. We can't wish away the fact that Gregg pitched only eight innings after the All-Star Game. We're gambling to a certain degree. He won't start throwing until late January or February, but the proposal we made wasn't made on the condition of his being able to throw."

Angelos also allayed suspicions that there are any carry-over bad feelings on his part stemming from the failed negotiations for Will Clark, who also is represented by Moorad.

"Absolutely not," said Angelos. "I have no ill feelings at all. He [Moorad] is a good negotiator. He's just doing his job. He's doing what he ought to be doing."

Still, Moorad can be expected to test the free-agent market. An if negotiations with other teams should intensify, Olson undoubtedly would have to undergo another round of medical examinations, which could delay further talks.

Olson's status won't drastically affect the Orioles' off-season plans. Because of the elbow injury, manager Johnny Oates was resigned to making alternate plans to fill the closer role the right-hander has handled for the past five years.

Of those on the roster, right-hander Alan Mills is the top candidate to replace Olson. The addition of free agent Mark Eichhorn provides some flexibility for Oates, who might decide on a bullpen by committee instead of relying on one late-inning specialist.

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