Contract talks between the Baltimore Orioles and Mickey Tettleton have been halted at least temporarily, Tettleton's agent said yesterday, and Orioles officials apparently are growing more doubtful the free-agent catcher will return to the team for next season.

Tony Attanasio said from his San Diego office he hasn't spoken to an Orioles representative since last week and has no plans to do so in the near future. He indicated he has held discussions with 12 other teams about Tettleton, nine of which he said had demonstrated "substantial interest" in the switch-hitting catcher.

"We're not talking currently" with the Orioles, Attanasio said. "At this point, both sides recognize that Mickey has an obligation to himself to see what's out there."

Tettleton and Attanasio were free to negotiate with all 26 major league clubs beginning Monday. Tettleton long has said his preference is to remain in Baltimore -- and Attanasio said yesterday that "Mickey still likes the Orioles; this is just the business side of the game" -- but it now appears that his best deal almost certainly will come from elsewhere.

In the minds of many in the game, Tettleton's fortunes have been tied to those of Philadelphia catcher Darren Daulton, who hit .268 with 12 home runs and 57 RBI last season. Tettleton hit .223 with 15 homers, 51 RBI and 160 strikeouts.

Daulton, a .206 career hitter entering last year, re-signed with the Phillies last week, getting a three-year, $6.75 million contract. Attanasio hinted he'll seek a comparable deal.

"If a guy with a lifetime batting average of .206 can get $6.75 million," Attanasio said, "then it's safe to assume that there will be plenty of interest in Mickey Tettleton -- as long as you're dealing with a fair market place."