Willie Randolph, who had to go to spring training as a non-roster player with the Milwaukee Brewers after no team offered a contract last winter, returned to New York yesterday when he agreed to a one-year, $850,000 deal with the Mets.
Randolph, 37, will be the starting second baseman and bat second. The move makes Bill Pecota, acquired last week from the Kansas City Royals, a utility player who will spell Randolph at second and share time at third with Dave Magadan, who batted .328 in 1990, and/or rookie Chris Donnels.
Manager Jeff Torborg said the third baseman, whoever it may be, will bat sixth.
The manager envisioned an infield defense far superior to what the Mets deployed the past two seasons, praised Randolph's ability to turn the double play and reiterated that Pecota is the team's best defensive third baseman. "I wanted Willie on the field and Pecota in there, too," he said.
Shortstop Kevin Elster said, "It's nice to have a real second baseman for once."
Randolph hit .327 for Milwaukee last season -- more than 50 points above his career average of .274 -- with no home runs, 54 RBI and 75 walks in 124 games.
He trailed only Julio Franco (.341) of the Texas Rangers and Wade Boggs (.332) of the Boston Red Sox among American Leaguers.
"Everybody knows what I can bring to the table," said Randolph, a former Yankee. "It's very exciting for a local kid being able to come back here."
With Milwaukee, Randolph got $500,000 guaranteed and made another $400,000 in performance bonuses. With the Mets, he can earn an additional $450,000 in performance bonuses -- $50,000 for starting 81 games and $50,000 more for 10-start intervals beginning at 90.
* TIGERS: The club agreed to a $2.2 million, two-year contract with Dan Gladden, 34, a right-handed hitting left fielder who scored the winning run in the 1991 World Series.
Gladden's batting average has dropped in each of the past two seasons while playing for the Twins. He hit .295 in 1989, .275 in 1990 and .247 in 1991.
"There's more to playing this game than statistics," Gladden said. "I hit .249 in 1987 and the Twins won the World Series that year, too. You bring more to a club than just numbers."
The Twins offered Gladden only $550,000 for 1992 -- and that wasn't guaranteed. He was expected to be a backup for Minnesota in 1992.
"They offered me a 50 percent cut from last year's salary," Gladden said. "I played 126 ballgames. That was the first offer I got and the only figure I got. That's probably what hurts most of all. They could find $5 million for Brian Harper, but only $550,000 for Glads."
Gladden, 34, a .272 lifetime hitter, will be teamed with center fielder Milt Cuyler and right fielder Rob Deer.
* BREWERS: Jim Gantner, a 37-year-old second baseman who has spent his entire career with the club, agreed to a one-year contract the same day Willie Randolph left to join the Mets.
Gantner batted .283 in 140 games with two home runs and 47 RBI.
* BLUE JAYS: Dave Stieb, who often fought verbally with Jack Morris when they were on opposing teams, now is glad to have the World Series hero as a teammate.
The harsh words culminated in 1990, when Morris, then with the Tigers, suggested that Stieb was a quitter for leaving a tie game. Stieb responded at the time by suggesting all Morris thought about was registering complete games.
But Thursday, Stieb said: "Put it out there in big bold print -- Stieb and Morris don't hate each other and, from what they know of each other, everything's fine. He's definitely a welcome addition. He's a very good pitcher, and I welcome him with open arms."
* CARDINALS: Pedro Guerrero, who beat a midnight Thursday deadline to accept salary arbitration, will play left field this season, manager Joe Torre said. Andres Galarraga, acquired in a trade from the Expos, will replace Guerrero at first base.
Guerrero, 35, played all three outfield positions early in his career for the Dodgers.
Although injuries and age have slowed him and the artificial turf hurts his knees, Guerrero said he is agreeable to the move.
* INDIANS: The club did not offer a contract to Doug Jones, Cleveland's career saves leader, allowing him to become a free agent.
Jones, 34, who has 128 career saves, was 26-32 in five seasons with the Indians with a 3.08 ERA.
A career reliever, Jones enjoyed success as a starter at the end of last season after a stint in the minor leagues.
* Mike Marshall, 32 next month, has signed a two-year contract to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Marshall spent 11 seasons in the majors, batting .270 with 148 home runs and 550 RBI. He played the first nine years with the Dodgers, split 1990 with the Mets and Red Sox, and was with Boston and the Angels last season.
Marshall was on the disabled list seven times in the past eight seasons, mostly for back ailments, and missed a lot more time when he said he wasn't feeling well.
"He likes to complain a lot [about] not playing, but that's what he does best. Not play," Toronto Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick said last season.