Ken Griffey Sr. and the Seattle Mariners can keep talking contract after all.

He was not offered salary arbitration by Friday night's deadline but lawyers from management's Player Relations Committee and the players' association determined that the deadline did not apply to him and several other players who are in a new category of free agents created under the collective bargaining agreement last March.

These players finished the season under the "repeater rights restriction," which meant they could become free agents only if their clubs failed to offer salary arbitration within five days after the World Series. Previously, clubs did not have to decide on players in this group until January.

However, the union wanted them to be able to become free agents along with the main group, which files in the 15 days after the World Series.

For the main group, clubs had to have offered salary arbitration by Friday night or else lose negotiating rights until May 1.

The players offered arbitration have until Dec. 19 to accept or reject the offer and have until Jan. 8 to reach agreements with their former clubs.

On Friday night, one union lawyer thought the deadline did apply to Griffey and the players in his group, which also includes Willie Randolph (Oakland) and Wally Backman (Pittsburgh).

However, another union lawyer and a management lawyer said today that Griffey and the other players in that class are "unrestricted." They will be treated as if they had been released, and none of the deadlines applies to them.

The Cincinnati Reds, meanwhile, decided not to offer arbitration to free agents Rick Mahler and Ron Oester, meaning neither can be with the team opening day.

They became free agents after the season. Mahler divided time between the rotation and the bullpen last season, and Oester was primarily a backup.

By deciding not to give them a chance at salary arbitration, the Reds became ineligible to sign either before May 1. Both are exploring opportunities with other teams.