A handwritten sign advocating a player boycott of the Baltimore Orioles' June 28 exhibition game against the club's Class AAA team in Rochester, N.Y., was posted this afternoon next to slugger Albert Belle's locker, but was removed before tonight's game.

The sign, apparently made by Belle, was labeled a "petition to boycott" the game, and was signed by Belle and pitcher Scott Erickson. Theirs were the only names on the petition when it was taken down.

General Manager Frank Wren said the sign was taken down by players "because they felt that wasn't the way to approach it." Manager Ray Miller declined to comment on the sign.

There is some question as to whether the players are obligated to play in the exhibition game, but according to Chief Operating Officer Joe Foss the issue is being discussed by the club, the players' union and the commissioner's office.

Belle, who has not spoken to the local media since spring training, made a silent protest of sorts during the team's May 3 exhibition game against Cuba, failing to run out a ground ball, then refusing to swing during later at-bats. Players are not paid for exhibition games.

Changing Approaches

The Orioles' recent run of success not only has improved their standing in the American League East division, but it may have changed the way the club will approach the July 31 trade deadline.

Where once the Orioles appeared willing to write off the 1999 season and try to dump their handful of tradable players, now the club is looking at what pieces it might add.

"We've always said that when you get to the all-star break you have to look in the mirror," Wren said. "Are you going north-south or east-west? If you're not going north, you have to prepare for the future. But if you feel you are going north and making progress, you look at where you are and where you need to be."

Although the club tried unsuccessfully to acquire a starting pitcher this spring, Wren said the needs he would like to address no longer include a starter. Both Wren and Miller are happy with Jason Johnson as the fifth pitcher in the rotation.

The only veteran player the Orioles are shopping is backup catcher Lenny Webster, who began a rehabilitation assignment for his sprained ankle today in Rochester. . . .

The Orioles signed two more of their unprecedented four first-round draft picks, including top pick Mike Paradis, the 13th overall selection. Paradis, a 21-year-old right-hander out of Clemson, is a sinker-slider pitcher. He received a signing bonus of $1.7 million.

The other player was outfielder Keith Reed from Providence, whom scouting director Tony DeMacio projects as a right fielder with "20- to 25-homer potential." Reed's signing bonus was $1.1 million.