ROSEMONT, ILL., DEC. 6 -- Baseball's winter meetings had ended a day earlier, but that didn't keep the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago Cubs from making big deals. The Orioles finally got on board tonight in this offseason of movement when they signed free agent Dwight Evans to a one-year contract that could be worth as much as $1.3 million.

Earlier in the day, the Cubs signed free agent outfielder George Bell to a contract that will guarantee him $10 million during the next three years and could give him $15 million during the next four.

Evans, 39, had played his entire 19-year career with the Boston Red Sox, most of it as the leading defensive right fielder in the league, winning eight Gold Gloves. But because a bad back limited him to designated hitting most of last season, the Orioles delayed the signing until they had assurances that he is healthy.

The back trouble and the frustration of not being able to play the field almost led to his retirement last August, according to Red Sox General Manager Lou Gorman. But Evans came around and hit .306 in the last six weeks as Boston won the AL East. Last season he had 13 homers, 63 RBI and batted .249. He has 379 career home runs and 1,346 RBI.

"In the next season, I feel like I've got to be an all-around player, and that means playing in the outfield," he said tonight. "It's nice to be wanted."

Orioles General Manager Roland Hemond is apparently counting on Evans in right field. "He felt he could have {played the field} at the end of last season," Hemond said.

Evans's contract calls for a $200,000 signing bonus, $600,000 in salary and as much as $500,000 in bonuses based on games played.

Bell, who had been with the Toronto Blue Jays throughout his nine-year major league career, will receive $3 million if the Cubs exercise an option for a fourth year. He could earn $2 million in incentives over the life of the deal if it lasts four years.

The Cubs' signing of Bell was their second major free-agent move of the offseason. They signed pitcher Danny Jackson to a four-year, $10.5 million contract in November. Today's activity raises some questions about what they will do with shortstop Shawon Dunston, who will become a free agent after next season.

Club president Don Grenesko said the Cubs have been negotiating with Dunston's agent, Eric Goldschmidt, for the past month and it is "not necessarily the case" that they cannot afford to sign Dunston to a contract comparable to Bell's and Jackson's.

But Dunston told Chicago reporters earlier this week that, if the Cubs signed Bell, "I'm gone. . . . How are they going to spend $30 million for the three of us?"

As it is, the Cubs next season will pay Dunston about $1.2 million, second baseman Ryne Sandberg $2.5 million and outfielder Andre Dawson $3.3 million. You don't just need to know how to handle a scorecard anymore, you need to know how to handle exponents.

So far this offseason, baseball's bankers have committed themselves to paying about $226 million to 32 players. Just in the last six days, they ran up nearly $136 million of that tab for 22 players. One of the latest big winners was Zane Smith, who returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates for four years and $10.6 million.

All of this does not include the Yankees redoing Steve Sax's contract to the tune of four years and $12.4 million. There's more.

Two of the more desirable free agents -- pitcher Bob Welch and outfielder Tom Brunansky -- remain unsigned. And today the players union authorized its negotiators to settle the collusion case, enabling 15 players to become free agents. They include Jack Morris, Brett Butler, Gary Gaetti, Dave Henderson, Danny Darwin, Jack Clark and Dave Smith.

"The current system is ultimately a prescription for disaster," Deputy Commissioner Steve Greenberg, a former player agent, said this week. "Whether that disaster is around the corner or 10 years ahead, I couldn't tell you."

But even with outgoing Montreal Expos owner Charles Bronfman pleading for baseball to implement an NBA-style revenue-sharing plan between owners and players, the spending continues. As the supply of free agents grows every year, the demand for them seems more insatiable than ever.

"I'd say it's illogical, it's foolhardy and it makes no sense as a business person," Mets General Manager Frank Cashen said after signing free-agent outfielder Vince Coleman to a four-year contract worth $11.95 million. "But that's kind of the ground rules."

The NL West had the most activity. The Reds have forked over nearly $20 million to keep Tom Browning and Bill Doran; the Giants $33 million to acquire Dave Righetti, Bud Black and Willie McGee (although they seemed to have jettisoned Butler, who is looking for mega-bucks; and gave up Ernest Riles and Steve Bedrosian); the Braves $15.5 million for Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream.

The Dodgers have picked up Darryl Strawberry for more than $20 million and Kevin Gross for $6.4 million, although they have parted with Kirk Gibson, and Fernando Valenzuela remains an unsigned free agent. The San Diego Padres got into the act with a stunning trade; they sent Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar to the Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff.

"It's a strong division that's getting stronger," Braves General Manager John Schuerholz said. "Whether it's the attraction of particular franchises or whether it happens to be the need to be more competitive against the Reds -- whatever those reasons are -- it has made the division a very competitive one."

In addition to their successful pursuit of Evans, the Orioles were still trying to construct a trade. Teams inquired about third basemen Craig Worthington and Leo Gomez, outfielder Steve Finley and pitchers Pete Harnisch and Mark Williamson. The Orioles still may have a chance to obtain Padres infielder-outfielder Bip Roberts, among others.

"I may have trouble sleeping," Hemond said after signing Evans. "I felt tired before, but I don't feel tired all of a sudden."