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Angels Sign Washington for 3 Years, $2.6 Million

Times Staff Writer

Nolan Ryan or Bruce Hurst, he isn’t. But as free agents go, Claudell Washington should fit in nicely with the Angels, who struck a reported 3-year, $2.625-million deal with the outfielder Tuesday in a move that filled at least one glaring need for a team with its share of shortcomings.

Washington, 34, who spent the last 2 1/2 seasons with the New York Yankees, alleviates an Angel prime concern, which was to find an established, productive outfielder to go along with Chili Davis, who led the team in runs batted in--and nearly in errors--and Devon White, who recently added a Gold Glove to his trophy collection. If the season were to begin today, said General Manager Mike Port, Washington would be in right field, White in center and Davis in left.

“I’m a jack of all trades,” Washington said in a conference call Tuesday. “I’ll be ready to play wherever I’m positioned.”

Actually, the Angels could have used Washington last year, as they first tried converting second baseman Johnny Ray into a third outfielder, before settling on the recycled Tony Armas. Compare Washington’s 1988 statistics with his new teammates’ and he would have finished first in batting average at .308, third in stolen bases with 15, fourth in hits with 140, and fifth in RBIs with 64--all in just 455 at-bats.

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And although Washington cost the Angels a chunk of change in salary, signing bonus and performance incentives, he didn’t cost them one of their precious draft choices. The Angels, in a bit of an irony, can thank those responsible for the most recent collusion ruling, which made Washington an unfettered free agent and very much available.

“We had been working with the New York Yankees, I think since August, and I thought this thing would have been long resolved before now,” Washington said. “But they kind of strung me along and strung me along and California came into play. (The Angels) kind of made an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

The length of the contract, all 3 years of it, helped seal the deal, Port said. Without it, the Angels still might be looking and Washington might have signed with the Texas Rangers or Houston Astros, teams that also expressed interest in him.

The signing of Washington helps ease Angel memories of the recent winter meetings in Atlanta, when Port and owner Gene Autry arrived with wallets full and pens readied for free agents Ryan and Hurst . . . and came away with reserve catcher Bill Schroeder. At one point, the Angels inquired about the availability of Atlanta Braves all-star outfielder Dale Murphy and spoke with the Dodgers about Mike Davis.

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But Port says now that the Angels might have set their aim too high with Murphy--and perhaps too low with Davis. They will settle for Washington, a career .280 hitter, a left-hander, who will slip on his seventh major league uniform this spring.

“I think it will be better for me as far as my career goes,” Washington said. “You kind of get lost in the shadows of the great stars that (the Yankees) had in their lineup, such as a Jack Clark, a Dave Winfield, a Rickey Henderson, the (Willie) Randolphs and (Don) Mattinglys.”

Not with this team he won’t. He instantly becomes one of the team leaders in major league service (15 years) and provides the Angels with some much needed offense. And in a predictable public relations move, Washington, at least for now, said the Angels are this close to becoming a contender again.

“They have a great ballclub,” he said. “It’s a young ballclub. I liked what I saw in the ballclub last year. I felt they only needed to make one or two moves here or there to better the ballclub. Hopefully I’m one of them.”

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So do the Angels.


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