Baseball signings again in flux Free-agent status will change if owners accept labor deal


Major-league officials are bracing for the possibility that owners might vote again on the proposed labor agreement when they meet Tuesday -- which could alter the free-agent status of several big-name players and the shopping list of teams like the Orioles.

Owners originally voted down the deal Nov. 6 by 18-12 -- 11 votes short of passage. Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf led the charge against the proposal, saying it would not keep salaries down. But this week Reinsdorf signed Albert Belle to a record five-year, $55 million contract.

Apparently, that signing has upset several owners, prompting speculation that they may decide to take another vote. If the proposal is passed, White Sox pitcher Alex Fernandez, Montreal Expos outfielder Moises Alou and Oakland Athletics shortstop Mike Bordick would be among those awarded service time from the 1994 strike, making them free agents.

The deal also would include a luxury tax on player salaries, which could force some teams to alter ambitious spending plans.

Regardless of whether the vote occurs, teams are already gearing up to respond to an altered market. The Orioles have said they would be interested in Fernandez, Alou and Bordick, as would several other teams. Even if those players do not become free agents, their possible availability may affect the bidding.

For example, many teams are interested in the Orioles' David Wells and the Chicago Cubs' Jaime Navarro, but those free-agent pitchers are considered a notch below Fernandez. So teams like the Florida Marlins -- who major-league sources say are offering a three-year, $12 million deal to Navarro -- reportedly are waiting to see if Fernandez becomes available before they decide to increase their proposal to Navarro.

The Orioles want to sign Wells and/or Navarro, but general manager Pat Gillick said they are assessing the market, analyzing what other teams might do and waiting for a potential vote.

"We're waiting to see what comes of the meeting Tuesday," Gillick said. "We're going to wait and see what happens with the agreement."

However, the agents for Navarro and free-agent reliever Mike Jackson said they expect to receive offers from the Orioles today or tomorrow, although Gillick said the team does not plan to make an offer. Major-league sources said the Cubs also have offered Navarro a deal similar to the Marlins' offer, but Navarro already turned down a 1997 player option to stay with the Cubs hTC for $3.6 million.

"The Orioles are one of the teams Jaime is very interested in," agent Dennis Gilbert said. "He'd like to play for Baltimore."

The Orioles may have to compete with several teams to retain Wells, 34. Gregg Clifton, Wells' agent, said the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays are willing to give the left-hander a three-year deal, but the Orioles are interested only in a two-year contract.

Clifton said if the Orioles are willing to give Navarro, 28, a three-year deal, then they should be prepared to do the same with Wells.

"The age difference may be irrelevant," Clifton said, "since David put together two straight seasons with more innings than he'd ever pitched before and this year he excelled on three days' rest."

Outfielder Mark Smith is one player looking to get out of Baltimore. Smith, the ninth overall pick in the 1991 draft, was outrighted to Triple-A Rochester and dropped from the Orioles' 40-man roster this week, and Smith's agent is seeking a possible trade.

"I think Mark was disappointed, and his hope is we'll be able to get him traded to another organization where he'll have a chance to stay in the big leagues," said Arn Tellem, Smith's agent. "The Orioles said if the right deal came along they would try to accommodate us."

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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