The departure of nearly a dozen free agents has made this off-season difficult for the Orioles. But next off-season is shaping up to be a doozy.
Not only do the Orioles have to re-sign potential free agents Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson between now and then, but also a chasm has developed in early talks with ace pitcher Mike Mussina.
The Orioles have had cursory talks with Mussina's agent, Arn Tellem, and are thinking along the lines of a two-year extension at $5 million a year, plus a $5 million option for a third year.
That's about 50 percent less than what one source says Mussina is looking for -- $7 million to $7.5 million a year, and another source indicated the request is for a five-year contract, rather than two. The request is no doubt shaped by the four-year, $31 million deal that John Smoltz signed with the Atlanta Braves last month.
Tellem wouldn't comment on the reported figures in the salary request. "All I'll say is we're far apart at this point," Tellem said. "But I expect to be able to resolve it at some point.
"His numbers are, across the board, better than Smoltz's during his career. I think nothing much will happen at this point. This probably won't get done until the beginning of the year."
Tellem also represents slugger Albert Belle, who signed a record $55 million, five-year contract with the Chicago White Sox. Tellem said last month that unless the Orioles sign Mussina to a multi-year contract by spring training, they will be looking at an "Albert Belle scenario" once Mussina becomes a free agent after the 1997 season.
Mussina, who turns 28 tomorrow, is coming off what is probably the worst statistical season of his career -- he compiled a 4.81 ERA -- and yet he went 19-11, and his .687 winning percentage is the best among active pitchers in the majors.
In other Orioles news:
Beginning today, the team can begin negotiating with new free agents Mike Bordick, Alex Fernandez, Moises Alou and Jimmy Key. Club officials strongly denied a report they were preparing a four-year, $24 million offer for Alou.
The Orioles discussed the possibility of pursuing free-agent pitcher Roger Clemens, but are scared by his contract demands of four years and $6 million a year.
Team assistant general manager Kevin Malone confirmed that club officials will meet with the agent for pitcher David Wells and third baseman Tim Naehring while they're in Boston for the winter meetings that start today. Wells has a three-year offer from Toronto and spoke with Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston this week in an attempt to resolve past differences.
The Orioles continue to have talks with outfielder Shane Mack and may make an offer soon. "I think they like Shane very much," said Mack's agent, Eric Goldschmidt, who is also talking to the Oakland Athletics. Mack has played the last two seasons in Japan.
The team has had more contact with the agent for shortstop Kevin Elster. "They said they're still interested in Kevin," said Patrick Elster, the shortstop's agent and brother. "But they're interested maybe not in just having Kevin at shortstop."
Elster has received an offer from the Texas Rangers that the agent called "very disappointing."
The Orioles have expressed an interest in former Oriole Mark McLemore, who hit .290 for the Rangers last season.
They've offered a contract to pitcher Shawn Boskie, who beat the Orioles three times last season for the California Angels.
The team is preparing for Monday's Rule 5 draft and, picking 22nd, it is expected to select at least one player for the major-league club.
Pub Date: 12/07/96