SARASOTA, Fla. -- All things being equal, pitcher Ben McDonald said yesterday, he wants to stay with the Orioles. He loves the town, the fans, the ballpark, all of it.
But McDonald said he will test the market if he's granted free agency whenever there's a new labor agreement.
"I want to play in Baltimore; there's no doubt about that," McDonald said. "The only question is whether we can reach a fair agreement."
If he's granted some sort of free agency, McDonald likely would be a no-show to spring training as he and agent Scott Boras weigh offers -- and McDonald said he wouldn't be the only one who would stay away. Less than a fourth of all those on 40-man major-league rosters are under contract.
"If a [labor agreement] gets done by March 10," McDonald said, "guys are still going to have to negotiate contracts before they go out and play. . . . I don't think [general managers] can possibly get it all done in a week. I wouldn't want to rush right into camp without knowing what the market will be."
The Orioles could negotiate with McDonald now and cut a deal to keep him. In theory, at least. After President Clinton's effort to resolve the strike failed, baseball owners decreed that any negotiations must go through the Player Relations Committee, which, at the very least, would complicate the process:
Boras would have to initiate the talks, asking the players union to open negotiations. The union would contact the PRC, which would, in turn, contact the Orioles. General manager Roland Hemond would give an offer to the PRC -- which would have to approve of the deal before passing it on to the union. The union would relay the offer to Boras, who would respond.
With all the interference, the Orioles might be better off waiting for a new labor agreement.
Owner Peter Angelos said: "We want to keep McDonald, and I think we will. But we need for the smoke to clear, and then we'll get down to business."
McDonald reiterated that remaining with the Orioles is his preference.
"No doubt," he said. "I like Baltimore, and I want to continue to play there. The people of Baltimore know baseball. It makes it fun to go out there."
Less of Sid
McDonald said he talked with Sid Fernandez a few weeks ago, and the left-hander told him then that he was losing weight and getting in better shape. Fernandez's agent, Tom Selakovich, said Monday that Fernandez has lost "30-something pounds."
McDonald said: "Sid said he was dropping weight and feeling good. I said, 'Man, that's great.' That would be a huge plus for us, because he's got great stuff and he can be such a great pitcher."
Manager Phil Regan said he would not have any specific rules regarding the weight of Fernandez or other players.
"Anytime a person is a little heavy," Regan said, "the last thing they want to hear about is their weight. I want to build him up, not knock him down."
If Chris Hoiles and the Orioles follow through on their five-year, $17.5 million oral agreement, then Hoiles will become the first major-league catcher in 12 years to sign a contract of that length.
In 1983, Terry Kennedy signed a five-year contract with the San Diego Padres, with an option for a sixth season. Earlier, the Montreal Expos' Gary Carter had received a seven-year extension, which likely is the longest deal for any catcher.
Busy in the off-season
When Regan began his professional career as a pitcher in the 1950s, he worked in the off-season to make ends meet. "Worst job I ever had," he said, "was in Middleville, Mich., for $1.50 an hour."
As Regan tells the story, he was led into a factory in which porcelain was placed in sinks, and given a general description of his duties.
"Throw these sinks up there," Regan said his boss told him. "The guy 'up there' was so high up I could hardly see him. I worked from 8 a.m. to noon, and that was it. I told them to just keep the $6."
Around the horn
Regan said he hopes teams will be permitted to use expanded rosters -- perhaps up to 28 players -- if the strike lingers late into spring training, because pitchers are unlikely to be ready for the start of the season. . . . Syd Thrift, the Orioles director of player development, became a grandfather for the third time yesterday, with the birth of Brandon Farrell Thrift, son of Jim Thrift, a coach with Triple-A Indianapolis.