ROSEMONT,ILL — ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The San Francisco Giants were so convinced that they would lose center fielder Brett Butler to new-look free agency, they decided to replace him in advance.
So, they signed 1990 National League batting champion Willie McGee to a four-year contract worth $13 million and indicated TC that they would not make a serious attempt to retain Butler when and if he is granted a new look.
The team McGee left, the Oakland Athletics, responded late last night by signing veteran outfielder Willie Wilson to a two-year deal. Wilson had spent his entire 15-year career with the Kansas City Royals.
The McGee signing was just the largest in a series of free-agent deals that were announced at the winter meetings yesterday. Third baseman Terry Pendleton signed with the Atlanta Braves, pitcher Kevin Gross signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and former Orioles pitcher Dennis Martinez accepted a three-year deal to forgo new-look free agency and stay with the Montreal Expos.
Late last night, the Detroit Tigers signed right-handed pitcher Bill Gullickson for two years. Gullickson, 31, was 10-14 with a 3.82 ERA last season with the Houston Astros.
The contracts signed by McGee and Martinez were the clearest indications that the collusion damages settlement is close to being finalized. It was reported last month that the 26 major-league clubs would pay $10.8 million each in collusion damages and 16 players -- including Butler -- would be granted free agency.
Butler, who batted .309 in his third season in San Francisco, also is thought to be seeking a four-year contract, but the Giants chose to make a pre-emptive strike and settle their outfield situation.
"I think there is a better-than-average chance that he [Butler] would be a new-look free agent," Giants president and general manager Al Rosen said, "and I didn't want to leave here without a center fielder.
"Willie is one of the finest outfielders in the game today. He is an outstanding hitter, he can drive in runs, he can steal bases and he can play defense. We think the addition of Willie does a great deal in solidifying what we think is a lineup that can score as many runs as any in baseball."
Manager Roger Craig praised Butler's contribution to the Giants, but said that the opportunity to pick up the defending NL batting champion was too good to pass up. McGee hit .335 for the St. Louis Cardinals last year before being traded to the A's.
"We hate to lose a player like Brett Butler, and, in all probability, we will," Craig said. "He is great player and a great person, but when you have a chance to get an impact player like McGee, you have to take it."
Despite signing Wilson, the A's said they still will try to retain center fielder Dave Henderson, who also will be a new-look free agent when the collusion settlement is announced.
The Expos have averted the possibility that Martinez might leave the team during the new-look period. The team announced yesterday that Martinez had agreed to terms on a three-year contract that is believed to be worth $9.5 million.
Martinez, 35, was 10-11 with a 2.95 ERA for the Expos last year and made the National League All-Star team. He was expected to be one of the most popular players among the group of 16 new-look free agents.
The Braves surprised no one when they signed Pendleton to a four-year contract worth a reported $9.8 million. Pendleton had been rumored to be close to a four-year deal with the club for the past two weeks.
Gross (9-12, 4.57 in 31 games for the Expos) reportedly received a three-year package worth $6.4 million. He has an 80-90 career record, with a 4.02 ERA, in eight major-league seasons.
* Milwaukee Brewers veteran Dave Parker has been selected the American League's Outstanding Designated Hitter for the second straight year.
Parker, the fifth two-time winner of the award, batted .281 with 21 home runs and 89 RBI last year and collected his 2,500th career hit in June.