The Orioles continued to chip away at their winter paperwork yesterday, finalizing one-year deals for catcher Chris Hoiles and minor-league pitcher Barry Manuel.
Hoiles agreed to a contract that will pay him more than five times what he earned in 1993, accepting a base salary of $2 million (plus $160,000 in incentives) after a breakthrough season in which he hit 29 home runs and established himself as one of the top catchers.
"We asked some of our younger players to step up to the next level last year," said assistant general manager Doug Melvin. "Chris did that and he was rewarded for it."
The giant pay increase reflected the added leverage that he held because he was eligible for salary arbitration, but it also was an indication of how much he has meant to the club. He stepped in after the team traded Mickey Tettleton to Detroit and has made Orioles fans forget one of the worst deals in club history.
Though he missed several weeks with a back injury, Hoiles batted .310 and drove in 82 runs. He fell one home run short of becoming the first catcher in American League history to hit .300 and 30 homers.
Manuel is not well known to local fans, but he is highly regarded by the Orioles scouting department. He was claimed on waivers from the Texas Rangers organization last year and figures to compete for a job in the Orioles bullpen this spring.
"He's a guy we're happy to have,"Melvin said. "He had some arm problems last year, but he has a good arm. I just have a gut feeling he will pitch in the big leagues for us."
The Orioles may need all the bullpen depth they can get, since club officials remain skeptical that Gregg Olson can make a complete recovery from his elbow injury, a torn ulnar collateral ligament. The club would like to get Olson under contract, but did not tender him on Dec. 20 because of the possible payoff he might receive in salary arbitration.
Club officials remain in contact with agents for both Olson and Todd Frohwirth, as well as the six remaining unsigned players -- Ben McDonald, Brady Anderson, Mike Devereaux, Jamie Moyer, Alan Mills and Leo Gomez -- who are eligible for salary arbitration.
Those six contracts -- in addition to the ones already agreed to by Hoiles, Mark McLemore, Harold Baines and Tim Hulett -- figure to pump the Orioles' expanding payroll to nearly $40 million. The club already had added nearly $9 million in 1994 salaries with the acquisition of free agents Rafael Palmeiro, Sid Fernandez and Mark Eichhorn, which more than offset the savings realized with the release of several veterans.
The Orioles still have to sign 30 of the 40 players on their roster, but Melvin said that does not constitute an unusual winter workload.
"That's really misleading," he said. "We've got 19 players with less than one year of major-league experience. We've got six players eligible still for arbitration. Those are the guys you focus on."