MINNEAPOLIS -- The Orioles exchanged arbitration figures with four unsigned players yesterday, and while resolutions seem imminent with pitcher Mike Mussina and second baseman Bret Barberie, there are huge voids with pitcher Ben McDonald and third baseman Leo Gomez.
McDonald is asking for $4.5 million, $1.3 million more than the Orioles' offer of $3.2 million. Gomez is requesting $1.85 million -- exactly double the Orioles' offer of $925,000.
Barberie wants $1,067,500, close to the team's figure of $850,000. Mussina filed for $3.35 million, and the Orioles are offering $2.5 million, but Mussina reiterated yesterday that he could sign a long-term contract.
Baseball sources confirmed that the Orioles offered him a three-year, $8.6 million contract but seem willing to increase that figure in negotiations.
"We're on our way," said Mussina, who said talks would continue Tuesday. "I haven't heard anything that I would take as negative feedback. We told them what we thought, they'll sit down and talk about it and then tell us what they think.
"When it looks like we're getting closer, we won't close the deal over the phone. We'll sit down somewhere in person and get it done."
Arbitration hearings will be scheduled for later this summer if the cases can't be settled, and it appears very possible that the Orioles are headed for arbitration with McDonald and Gomez.
"We put a lot of thought into the numbers," said club counsel Russell Smouse, "and we feel we filed the right numbers. We filed numbers we felt are realistic and fair."
Smouse, general manager Roland Hemond, assistant GM Frank Robinson and Houston president Tal Smith -- who is serving clubs in an advisory capacity on arbitration cases -- settled on the figures together.
"We will deal fairly and realistically with each player," said Smouse. "But if we can't [settle], we will go to arbitration if necessary. We're prepared to go, but that's not our desire."
Ripken finds a way
Shortstop Cal Ripken had his third news conference of the spring yesterday, giving many of the same answers to the same questions. But there was this: Someone asked Ripken if he ever sat back, in his private moments, and marveled at his feat.
Ripken said no, then added, "I can say this -- without a doubt, if someone had asked me 12 or 13 years ago, do you think you'd be able to play 2,000 straight games, I'd say no way."
Last night, Ripken played in his 2,000th game at shortstop, and his 2,012th straight game.
Close eyes on Alexander
Orioles manager Phil Regan made three changes in his lineup yesterday, replacing second baseman Barberie with Manny Alexander, right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds with Kevin Bass, and catcher Chris Hoiles with Matt Nokes. Hoiles and Hammonds were getting a day off, but Alexander might be getting a chance to earn more playing time.
"I think we can use a little more speed on turf," Regan said, "so I'm getting Manny in there."
Is Regan open-minded about making a change at second base? "I'm always looking at who does the job and plays better," Regan said.
Alexander said, "I'm happy I'm getting the opportunity to show what I can do."
Barberie is off to a slow start, but Regan isn't writing him off after just two games. "He's a hard-nosed player and I like him," Regan said. "I think he's going to hit. He has always hit."