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UNION'S CAMP IS ATTRACTING TOP FREE AGENTS

Anybody need a catcher?

How about the guy with one of the strongest arms in baseball? Or maybe the switch hitter with 186 career homers and only two errors last season?Benito Santiago and Mickey Tettleton are the two, and both have decided to attend the union's free agent camp while they wait for someone to offer them a contract they deem adequate.

Santiago checked in Sunday, joining Tettleton and 30 others who worked out for two hours on the third day of camp. Two more players, pitcher Gary Wayne and outfielder Dave Gallagher, left to sign contracts. Five new players arrived - Santiago, Ricky Jordan, Jay Howell, Tim Belcher and Mike Bielecki. Infielder Chris Sabo took a day off to be with his pregnant wife.

After six defections, the camp is a little top-heavy with potential fifth starters, middle relievers and utility men, but it also has two of the best catchers in the majors over the past five seasons.

And good catchers are usually in demand.

"Santiago, runners can't take leads off him. He'll pick you off first, throw you out at second. He's shut down a lot of teams' running games, which is a big deal, especially in the National League," camp manager Jackie Moore said.

"With Tettleton, managers talk about three-run homer guys. That's him. He can catch, play the outfield, infield, DH. He's going to be in your lineup," Moore said.

Santiago played for Florida last season, hitting .273 with 11 homers, 41 RBI and five errors in 101 games. He led the NL in assists by catchers with 66, but the Marlins have handed the catching job to rookie Charles Johnson.

The biggest factor working against Santiago is his 1994 salary of $3.8 million. He was reportedly offered a one-year deal for $200,000 - less than he once paid for a car.

"I've got a few teams interested in me, but you can see how everything's changed. You can see the situation," Santiago said.

Tettleton hit just .248 last year with 17 homers, 51 RBI and 98 strikeouts in 339 at-bats, but he was selected to the All-Star team. He made $1.83 million last season and turned down an offer from Detroit for much less money.

"It's been a wait-and-see thing all winter, from waiting for the NLRB, waiting for court, waiting for a lockout vote, now waiting for a job. The toughest thing now is the uncertainty of where you're going to be," he said.

A catcher who is not at free agent camp, Pat Borders, was the subject of much of the clubhouse gossip Sunday. Borders, who made $2.5 million last season, took a deal with Kansas City on Friday for just $310,000.

"When he does that, it ruins things for a lot of guys in here," Lloyd McClendon said.

Among some, there was stronger sense of urgency Sunday as players talked over the flurry of signings from Friday and Saturday.

Jordan, resigned to taking a pay cut from the $1.2 million he made for Philadelphia last year, asked if any scouts had shown up other than Dan Welke of Toronto, a spectator all three days. Told that no others were spotted, he shook his head.

"The way it's looking is that it's not a good year to be a free agent unless you're Larry Walker or Bill Swift. I'd rather be a fifth-year player than a sixth-year player, because at least I'd get arbitration," he said.

"I'm pretty sure everybody in here is going to have to take a lowball offer," he added.

Tim Belcher, 7-15 with a 5.89 ERA for Detroit in 1994, said he's still waiting for his first offer.

"Haven't had anything yet. Everybody says I'm on their list, but they haven't gotten to me on their lists yet. I was a free agent last year and waited around then, too. It's been a rough couple of off-seasons for me," he said.