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Joyner-for-Davis Trade May Be Near : Angels: Deal for Astro first baseman would take Gaetti offer off the table because of money needed for new contract.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Monthlong trade talks between the Angels and the Houston Astros have taken a serious turn and are on the brink of bringing first baseman Glenn Davis to Anaheim in exchange for first baseman Wally Joyner. A third team could also be involved in the deal, a source in Houston said Wednesday, but that aspect probably would not concern the Angels.

Should the Angels acquire Davis, their pursuit of free-agent third baseman Gary Gaetti would end. Davis, who was limited to 93 games last season because of a strained muscle in his left rib cage, is eligible for free agency after next season and would have to be signed to a long-term contract that would preclude spending on Gaetti. Davis earned $1.985 million last season.

The Angels have offered Gaetti a four-year, $10.8-million contract, but club President Richard Brown has said he’s not sure Gaetti is willing to leave Minnesota. Gaetti told The Times Monday the prospect of departing “is more likely and not as frightening” as when he was a free agent in 1988 and declined more lucrative offers to remain with the Twins. But he added that family considerations could keep him in the Twin Cities. As a new-look free agent, Gaetti has until Jan. 29 to sign a contract with the Twins or another team.

Brown would neither confirm nor deny the heightened talks regarding Davis. However, Brown said Tuesday the Angels have made alternative plans should they not sign Gaetti, including platooning Jack Howell--a left-handed hitter--with a right-handed hitter who would be acquired or found on the current roster. The signing of free-agent third baseman Jim Presley of Atlanta is possible. Howell, who spent a month with triple-A Edmonton, hit .228 for the Angels last season.

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“We don’t want to be in a situation this team has been in before of going down one path and finding a dead end and having no alternative,” Brown said. “We would like to go down a parallel path but always going forward.”

That parallel path appears to lead to Davis, who hit .251 last season while struggling to overcome the muscle strain that affected his swing. Davis, who will turn 30 in March, hit 22 home runs and drove in 64 runs, yet was constantly booed by Astro fans.

He has hit 166 home runs in slightly more than five major league seasons despite playing half his games in the Astrodome, a difficult park for home run hitters. He has a .262 batting average for his career.

The Astros are said to be eager to get someone for him rather than lose him to free agency.

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Joyner, 28, was hampered by a stress fracture in his right kneecap last season and did not play after July 11. He hit .268 with eight homers and 43 RBIs in 83 games. Four of his home runs came in a nine-game span, May 19-27, and contributed to his .337 batting average that month.

Joyner is eligible for salary arbitration, a process he went through last winter to win an award of $1.75 million.

A fan favorite since his rookie season in 1986, when he hit .290 with 22 home runs and 100 RBIs, Joyner became the subject of trade rumors last season.

His production has declined from a peak of 34 homers and 117 RBIs in 1987. He had 13 homers and 86 RBIs in 1988 and 16 homers and 79 RBIs in 1989.

Times staff writer Ross Newhan contributed to this story.


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