Separated from their traditional convention-like gathering with minor league officials by a contract dispute, representatives of Major League Baseball's 26 teams will gather today near Chicago for their 89th annual winter meetings.
Five days at an O'Hare Airport hotel in December may not be the most inspirational atmosphere for baseball's wheelers and dealers, but even if the major leagues hadn't chosen to separate themselves from the minor league activities now taking place in Los Angeles, there still wouldn't have been a sudden revival of the frenzied player swapping that used to take place at this event. The player bazaar still exists, but agents have replaced general managers as the ones displaying the wares.
Meanwhile, a lot of the action at this gathering seems likely to take place in the meeting rooms rather than the lobbies, hallways and suites. Business issues -- the proposed collusion settlement, expansion, the umpires' contract that expires at the end of the year, and, of course, the bitter player development contract negotiations -- probably will be discussed as much as player transactions.
"It's going to be a free agency supermarket out there," Baltimore Orioles President Larry Lucchino said. "But these meetings will be different. They may be more like our quarterly meetings. This is new terrain for everybody."
Lucchino said he would like to see an overall change from recent years. "We need to dislodge some things and get people back into trading," said Lucchino, whose team has dipped its foot into the free agent waters by making offers to Mariners pitcher Matt Young and Astros outfielder Franklin Stubbs in addition to attempting to re-sign catcher Mickey Tettleton.
According to sources, Tettleton's agent, Tony Attanasio, has told the Orioles that the Reds, Athletics, Braves and Tigers have made, or would be making offers. But team officials with the A's and Reds say they have expressed no interest in Tettleton, have had no contact with Attanasio and will not be making offers.
In addition, the Tigers say they are interested in signing only non-compensation free agents. Tettleton is a Type A free agent, meaning a club would have to give the Orioles a first-round draft choice if it signs him. The Orioles have offered Tettleton a one-year contract with an option for a second year. It is believed that Tettleton is seeking a three-year deal.
"We are in the process of setting up appointments," General Manager Roland Hemond said Thursday. "Some clubs have indicated they do want to get together."
But even Hemond, with his scraps of paper in every pants, jacket and shirt pocket, may have trouble doing a lot more than claiming a player in Monday's Rule 5 draft of players not on teams' 40-player rosters or making a small deal. The Orioles are seeking at least a left-handed starting pitcher and a power hitter, but they don't have a tremendous number of players with trade value with whom they would be willing to part. Plus, the large number of unsigned free agents have many teams hamstrung about who they can afford to trade.
Another order of business for the Orioles may involve naming a replacement for scouting director John Barr, who left to become assistant general manager of the Padres. "It's an important position, especially given the time and money we have spent on that in recent years," Lucchino said. Team officials have looked outside the organization, but probably will stay within it.
Exacerbating the free agent question is the new-look free agency that will be granted to 16 players if, as expected, the owners approve a $280 million settlement to the collusion cases they lost in arbitration.
Seventeen groups, representing 10 cities, remain in the running for the two National League expansion franchises that will be added in 1993, and it is almost certain there will be at least informal discussion about the candidates.
Washington developer John Akridge, leader of a group that would like to base a team at RFK Stadium, said his group will not be at the meetings. "If you're not invited to something, you don't go," he said. "We were not invited." Washington attorney Bart Fisher, leader of a reorganized group seeking a team for Northern Virginia, said he may attend. His new group has not had a chance to make a presentation to the expansion committee and he is hoping to do that or introduce himself.