Dave Winfield, once derided by New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner as "Mr. May," may become an Angel.
Then again, he may not. The Yankees and Angels agreed to a trade Friday that would send the 38-year-old outfielder to California in exchange for pitcher Mike Witt. But, Winfield says he has the right to refuse the deal. If no agreement can be reached, the issue would be decided by arbitrator George Nicolau.
Muddling the deal are apparently contradictory circumstances affecting Winfield, a 12-time All-Star, who was reduced to platoon status when the Yankees acquired Claudell Washington from the Angels April 29. Winfield is hitting .213 with six runs batted in this season in his return from back surgery.
According to the Basic Agreement, as a 10-and-five player--10 years' experience and the last five with the same club--Winfield has the right to veto trades. However, his contract contains a list of seven clubs to whom he would accept trades, and the Angels are among those seven.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 13, 1990 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 9 Column 2 Sports Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Winfield trade--The value of the Angel contract signed by Mike Witt in 1987 was incorrectly stated in Saturday's editions. It was a two-year, $2.8-million contract.
"This has nothing to do with the California Angels. I respect them, like them, the city, the weather," Winfield said from Seattle, where he had taken batting practice with the Yankees before New York's game against the Mariners Friday. "I played with (Angel Manager) Doug Rader (in San Diego). Everything's cool. I have nothing bad to say about the Angels. I'm going to play a lot of years for somebody, but it isn't going to be determined today where or when . . .
"What it comes down to is that no matter what anyone says, they can't trade me without my permission. I haven't given my permission."
While Angel General Manager Mike Port said the exchange is "a deal as it stands now" and refused to discuss contingency plans, Don Fehr, executive director of the Major League Players Assn., said the deal is probably invalid because Winfield's refusal right supercedes other clauses.
The Yankees said they will hold Witt out of their lineup pending a resolution of the issue.
Fehr underlined the problem.
"Any list that Winfield has given the Yankees was done so under protest," Fehr said. "The Yankees have known for five years that Dave Winfield couldn't be traded without his express written permission. They threatened to trade Dave before (to Houston in 1988), but we've said, 'You can't do that,' and they've backed off. Nothing is 100% certain in this world, but in this case, we are reasonably certain we are right."
Winfield's reluctance could be a ploy to get the Angels to extend his 10-year, $20-million contract, which expires after this season. It could also be one last jab at Steinbrenner, with whom Winfield has been embroiled in countless disputes since he left the San Diego Padres to sign with the Yankees in December, 1980.
"We'll have to wait and see," Winfield said, when asked if he wanted an extension before he would report. "I don't want to say it's on Mr. (Gene) Autry's or Mr. Port's shoulders."
Perhaps the only person with a clear understanding of matters Friday was Witt, who led the Angels in victories from 1984-88 but was shifted from a starting role to the bullpen this season after the signing of Mark Langston.
Knowing that he was unlikely to be a starter again for the Angels--who lost Kirk McCaskill for at least one start because of elbow problems--Witt welcomed the chance to start for the Yankees, whose free-agent advances he spurned after the 1987 season to sign a two-year, $2.4-million contract with the Angels.
"There's no confusion in my mind. If he (Winfield) doesn't want to show up, that's his and the Angels' problem. As far as I know, I'm going to New York," said Witt, who was 0-3 with one save and a 1.77 earned-run average in 10 relief appearances this season.
"This is probably the best thing for me by far, professionally," Witt said.
The Angel players think that the Winfield trade might be the prelude to other deals to fortify the feeble offense.
"We've got three, four, five six outfielders? Somebody's going to be out," Dante Bichette said.
As the Angels' leading hitter and RBI-producer, Bichette will be in the lineup, but probably in left or center field instead of right, where Rader said Winfield would play.
Rader believes Winfield could be a good influence on a club that lacks a leader. "I've played with Dave and know him very well," Rader said. "I respect him very much not only as a performer but as a person. He can provide the internal strength and spark we desperately need."
Reggie Jackson, himself a controversial figure during his Yankee days, spoke with Winfield at length last weekend when the Yankees were in Anaheim and again in Oakland this week. It was Jackson's impression that Winfield "didn't want to be traded, but he was very understanding of what was best for Dave Winfield. One thing Dave Winfield is, is smart. . . . He can lead. he definitely can be a presence, especially if he produces."