The Baltimore Orioles were proceeding tonight as if they were still in the race to sign free agent left-hander Chuck Finley, although Finley had spent much of the last two days in Cleveland, had taken a physical for the Indians and appeared ready to sign with them at any time.

"We're not out of it," Orioles director of player personnel Syd Thrift said. "We were told by his representative that it wasn't over."

Thrift said the Orioles did not modify their offer to Finley today, but that it was "not impossible" that they would.

Finley, 37, was in Cleveland on Tuesday night and most of Wednesday, along with agent Tim Shannon, meeting with Indians executives. However, both Finley and Shannon checked out of their Cleveland hotel late this afternoon, and neither could be reached.

The Orioles have latched on to Finley as a guidepost for how to approach the 2000 season. If they sign him, thus completing what would be one of the best rotations in the league, they would consider themselves contenders. If not, they would view 2000 as a transitional year and look to get younger and faster by welcoming trade inquiries about left fielder B.J. Surhoff, pitcher Scott Erickson and other veteran players.

Meantime, baseball sources said the Orioles may have been thwarted in an effort to trade Surhoff by an incomplete clause in Surhoff's contract, signed a year ago. The Orioles had discussed a trade with the Mets that would have sent Surhoff to New York for outfielder Roger Cedeno and a prospect, believed to be first baseman Jorge Toca.

However, the Orioles discovered that Surhoff, who was given a limited no-trade provision, never submitted the list of teams to which he could not be traded, sources said. Surhoff's agent, Gregg Clifton, did not return calls today.

Sources familiar with Surhoff's contract, signed Dec. 4, 1998, said Surhoff was required to submit by March 1 a list of six teams to which he cannot be traded. Surhoff never submitted the list, but because the contract prevented the Orioles from trading him until after June 1, the Orioles didn't press the matter. In May, the Orioles apparently reminded Surhoff about the list, but he never produced it.

Former Orioles general manager Frank Wren, who was in charge of the Orioles' negotiations at the time, declined to comment about the Surhoff matter today.

According to Orioles sources, Surhoff would use his uncompleted no-trade list to contest a trade if one were reached. Surhoff turned down more lucrative offers to remain with the Orioles. However, other industry sources familiar with the contract say Surhoff essentially waived his no-trade rights by failing to submit the list.

Orioles Notes: The team has agreed to a two-year, $5.5 million contract with first baseman-outfielder Jeff Conine. There is a club option for a third year. The team is expected to announce that signing and the signing of free agent Greg Myers, a left-handed hitting backup catcher, on Thursday. . . . Left-handed free agent Arthur Rhodes is expected to announce his choice of teams this week. The Seattle Mariners are the front-runners.