Jack McDowell, Jim Abbott and Kenny Rogers may be eligible to file for free agency next Saturday. Then again, they may not be.

If the owners have their way, the start of filing will be put off until November.In the 19th offseason of free agency, the only thing that's assured is confusion.

"I've told Billy Swift he may not be signing a contract until next June," says Craig Fenech, who represents the right-hander.

For now, the terms of the expired collective bargaining agreement remain in effect. That means any player with six years of major league service whose contract has expired is eligible to file.

But do players get service time for the 53 days of the strike? Twelve players, including McDowell, Abbott and Rogers, won't be eligible if strike time doesn't count.

"Absent an agreement, we would not file those guys unless we had concluded their service was a function of unfair labor practices on the part of the employer," Eugene Orza, the union's associate general counsel, said Friday.

Other players affected by service time during the strike are Tom Bolton of Baltimore, Bob and Ken Patterson of California, Alvaro Espinosa of Cleveland, Tom Gordon of Kansas City, Randy Velarde of the New York Yankees, Gregg Olson of Atlanta, Mark Parent of the Chicago Cubs, Erik Hanson of Cincinnati, Marvin Freeman and Greg Harris of Colorado and Chris Gwynn of Los Angeles. Bolton and Gwynn, not including the strike, would need just one more day to be eligible to file.

As of Friday, as many as 186 players were eligible, including 14 awaiting club decisions on 1995 options, 50 covered by the restriction on repeat free agency within five years and six covered by the restriction who also await option decisions.

Players covered by the repeater rights restriction become eligible for free agency if they aren't offered salary arbitration during the first five days of the 15-day filing period.

The expired labor agreement says the filing period begins either Oct. 15 or the day after the World Series ends, whichever is later. Owners want to push the start back 45 days to Nov. 30 and may try to unilaterally change the rules.

"It would be in everybody's interest," said Chuck O'Connor, the general counsel of management's player relations committee. "We would have a chance to focus on negotiating an agreement."

Some lawyers on the players' side think a delay would give owners additional time to figure out how to declare an impasse in bargaining and impose the salary cap they want. Under the system owners proposed to the players on June 14, salary arbitration would be abolished and players with 4-to-6 years of major league service could become limited free agents - their old clubs would allowed to match any offers.

If arbitration is eliminated and 4-to-6 players become free, budgets may change. Management's salary-cap proposal called for a 4-year phase-in period, so even if it came about it probably wouldn't change much this winter.

Only two players have agreed to major league contracts since the strike began Aug. 12 - Cincinnati outfielder Thomas Howard at $1.35 million for two years and Reds infielder Lenny Harris at $1 million for two years.

Other players eligible to file include AL batting champion Paul O'Neill, Bo Jackson, Gregg Jefferies, Andy Van Slyke, Dave Winfield, Jay Buhner, Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Brown, Brett Butler, Orel Hershiser and Dwight Gooden.