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Gaetti, Angels Agree to Contract : Baseball: Third baseman leaves Twins for a fresh start and four-year, $11.4-million deal.

January 25, 1991|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Angels claim they emptied owner Gene Autry's wallet to give Gary Gaetti a four-year, $11.4-million contract, but they filled a glaring hole at third base and added power to a club deep in pitching but starved for offensive consistency.

Gaetti, a four-time Gold Glove winner who has averaged 22 home runs and 84 runs batted in in his nine-year career, ended weeks of speculation Thursday by accepting what the Angels proclaimed was their final bid for his services. Gaetti, who was granted new-look free agency as an offshoot of the 1987 collusion settlement, is guaranteed $2.7 million in each of his first two seasons and $3 million in each of the last two.

"There ain't no more money in the saddlebags," Angel President Richard Brown said after Gaetti spoke with reporters at Anaheim Stadium during a conference call.

The Angels' previous offer, made in mid-December and unchanged until Thursday morning, was $10.8 million. That was sweetened after Minnesota increased its previous bid late Wednesday to make it comparable. Brown said he believed the Angels had to offer Gaetti significantly more money as incentive for him to uproot his family and end his long association with the Twins.

"We weren't going to give it to him in increments," Brown said. "We had to maintain a large gap between ourselves and Minnesota."

The Twins' last proposal was potentially worth $200,000 more than the agreement Gaetti reached with the Angels, but Minnesota wasn't willing to guarantee as much money.

The Twins increased their offer from $2.4 million to $2.6 million for the first year and gave Gaetti the right to become a free agent the first season. They also made it easier for him to earn various bonuses. Had he met every qualification, he could have made $11.6 million over four years.

The Angels' willingness to guarantee his money rather than set up incentive clauses was decisive for Gaetti, who has two young children.

"The Angels' offer was outstanding and really solid, and in thinking about my family and my family's future, that was a big consideration," said Gaetti, who will fly to California today for a news conference.

"I just felt Gary Gaetti, as a baseball player, needed a change of scenery, for lack of better words. I felt very good about coming to that team. I got to speaking to people in the organization, and I felt I'd be able to add something they really need.

"I felt like I was really wanted out there. That was very big, but I also wanted a new start for my family."

His arrival almost certainly signals the end of Jack Howell's Angel career. Howell is also represented by Jim Bronner and knew what might happen.

Soon after learning the Angels would pursue Gaetti, Howell made some calls to measure other clubs' interest in him. It's believed the New York Yankees, among others, asked the Angels about Howell during last month's winter meetings, and he expects to be traded.

"I don't have any problem with this," Howell said from his off-season home in Arizona. "When you play baseball, you know the chances of being with the same club for a long period of time are slim. I'm looking forward to getting with a new club and playing."

There were many times, Gaetti said, that the idea of moving and playing for a new club seemed too difficult.

"The day the Angels offered me the contract, I was in (Twin owner) Carl Pohlad's office, and I thought it was going to be a done deal with Minnesota," Gaetti said. "It just kept going on and on. There were a few times I thought I would be staying. I just feel like starting all over and just going. It's hard to describe the process. . . .

"Throughout the course of the next few days and weeks, it'll be opened up again, like when the season starts and we play (at the Metrodome) in Minnesota's home opener."

Gaetti's arrival highlights a busy off-season for the Angels. They already added speed to a slow lineup when they acquired second baseman Luis Sojo and outfielder Junior Felix from Toronto in December, and General Manager Mike Port is eager for spring training to start so he can assess the impact of the additions.

"If we were to open tomorrow, we like our club very, very much," Port said. "We've addressed every need: center field, second base and now we have something different at third base. We've made some changes in respect to the pitching staff as well (signing Jeff Robinson). . . . I don't think any of us have hesitations about going to spring training with the club as it is."

Twin General Manager Andy MacPhail, who said Wednesday he thought Gaetti was leaning toward signing with the Angels, was more disappointed than surprised at losing Gaetti.

"I hadn't been too optimistic, but I actually thought we had a chance today after I talked to Bronner," MacPhail said. "We worked awfully hard on this one, and when you lose, it's hard to take."

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