While baseball braces itself for a bombshell trade involving Ken Griffey Jr. this weekend, the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets inaugurated the game's annual winter meetings today with a minor deal, swapping veteran left-handed relievers Jesse Orosco and Chuck McElroy.

Orosco, 42, who holds the major league record for most games pitched in a career, ends his five-year association with the Orioles to return to the team with which he broke into the majors in 1979 and where he spent his best years. In recent years, he has become strictly a left-handed specialist, entering late in the game to retire one or two lefties.

The impetus for the trade may have been Orosco's apparent dislike of new Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, who managed Orosco in Cleveland in 1991. Baseball sources said today that Orosco asked to be traded last month after Hargrove's hiring was announced. Orosco's agent, Allan Meersand, confirmed today that Orosco felt Hargrove underutilized him.

"I think I'm going to stay off that [topic]," Orosco said today. "I have to move on, turn the page."

McElroy, 32, will be playing for his eighth team in an 11-year career. The Mets, seeking to bolster their bullpen for the stretch run, acquired him at the trade deadline from Colorado. But by the end of the season, they did not have the confidence in him to put him on their postseason roster.

However, McElroy was 6-4 with a 2.90 earned run average in Colorado two years ago, and the Orioles feel a reunion with new Orioles pitching coach Sammy Ellis, who tutored him with the Chicago Cubs, will return McElroy to his earlier form. He also can pitch in both short and long relief.

"Chuck had a great year two years ago," said Orioles director of player personnel Syd Thrift. "He's a functional left-hander who can pitch long or short."

The deal was a virtual wash in terms of money. Orosco will earn $1.1 million in 2000, with an $1.3 million option for 2001 that vests if Orosco pitches in 55 games next season. McElroy will earn $1.3 million in 2000 and $1.4 million in 2001.

Orosco endured a brutal first half (7.58 ERA), but was outstanding in the second half (2.08). For the season, lefties hit just .270 against him.

Meanwhile, the Orosco-McElroy trade provided just a brief distraction from the larger business at hand this weekend--the trade talks involving Griffey.

Seattle Mariners General Manager Pat Gillick is scheduled to meet with Cincinnati Reds counterpart Jim Bowden on Saturday. The Reds remain the front-runner in the sweepstakes for the center fielder, who has said he wants to leave Seattle, if for no other reason than Bowden is willing to talk openly of wanting to land Griffey.

"No disrespect to Disney," Bowden told the Los Angeles Times, "but I'm not interested in Goofy. I'm coming to get Griffey and bring him back to his home town, where he belongs. It's the only reason I'm going."

The Mets, who are looking to add a powerful left-handed bat with John Olerud having recently left for the Mariners, lost of one of their potential targets today. The Toronto Blue Jays announced they had re-signed first baseman Carlos Delgado to a three-year deal believed to be worth about $36 million. The Mets are expected to make at least a cursory effort to acquire Griffey.

Orioles Note: Baltimore, seeking a catcher to back up Charles Johnson, is believed to be close to signing free agent catcher Greg Myers, a left-handed hitter who split last season between San Diego and Atlanta.