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Angels Trade Curtis : Baseball: Center fielder goes to Detroit for Tony Phillips, 36, in a deal with long-term financial ramifications.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chad Curtis will be in the Anaheim Stadium outfield for the season opener April 26 . . . wearing a Detroit Tiger uniform.

Curtis, the self-made center fielder whose fiery temperament led to confrontations with coaches and front-office executives, was traded to the Tigers on Thursday for Tony Phillips, a utility player who will start in left field for the Angels. Jim Edmonds will move from left to center field.

The Angels are exchanging youth for age. Curtis is 26 and Phillips will turn 36 on April 25, but he is one of the American League’s top leadoff hitters.

Phillips, who can also play third base and second, had on-base percentages of .443 in 1993 and .409 in ’94, compared to Curtis’ .361 in ’93 and .317 in ’94. Phillips has struck out more often than Curtis the last two seasons, 207-158, but he also has hit more home runs, 26-17, and has drawn far more walks, 227-107.

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Phillips batted .313 with seven homers and a league-leading 132 walks in 1993, and .281 with 19 homers and 61 runs batted in last season. Curtis had a .268 average and 116 stolen bases in three Angel seasons but never seemed comfortable in the leadoff role.

“Defensively, the deal is a push,” Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi said. “But it makes us a better offensive club this year, and it puts us in a better financial position to get more pitching next year.”

The move won’t trim the Angels’ payroll this season. Phillips is beginning the final year of a three-year contract that will pay $3.5 million, but $1.5 million is in deferred payments that the Tigers agreed to pick up. Net cost to the Angels: $2 million.

Curtis is starting the second year of a three-year deal that pays $1.9 million this season and $2 million next season, so the Angels, if they don’t re-sign Phillips, have essentially trimmed their 1996 budget by $2 million.

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“It’s no secret they’re trying to cut the budget, and even though it’s a (financial) wash this season, they look at me as someone who might demand more money in the future,” Curtis said.

Although Bavasi denied it was a factor in the trade, Curtis is also viewed by some as a player with a chip on his shoulder. A 45th-round draft pick in 1989, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Curtis has spent his career defying those who said he would never make it to the big leagues.

An intense competitor, his aggressiveness sometimes led to mistakes in the field and on the basepaths. He was moody in the clubhouse, and his strikeouts were often punctuated with a thrown bat and helmet.

Curtis had an argument with batting instructor Rod Carew last season, after which Carew said Curtis was selfish and “uncoachable.”

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And over the winter, Curtis and Bavasi had a shouting match about Curtis’ contract, a dispute that still hasn’t been resolved.

“As (for) the run-in with the coaching staff, that wasn’t an issue for me--they took care of it,” Bavasi said. “As for our disagreement, I’ve always had an easy relationship with Chad. He’s never been afraid to tell me when he’s ticked off, and I liked that. It wasn’t a factor.”

Said Curtis: “Bill told me that had nothing to do with it, and I’ll take him for his word. It doesn’t do any good to look back on why I was traded. I’d rather concentrate on why the Tigers want me.”

The move will be a homecoming for Curtis, who grew up in Middleville, Mich., about two hours west of Detroit, and recently bought a home there.

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“I’ll miss the guys here, but I’ll be in a situation where on an off-day I can go home and see my family,” Curtis said. “And I’ll be playing with three of my favorite players of all time--Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson. They give everything they have every day, and I’ve always modeled myself after them.”

Phillips said he was stunned by the trade but admitted he’d had a feeling something like this could happen. Detroit has been trying to dump some of its older players.

“They tried the free-agent market and it didn’t work, so it’s good for them to give the kids an opportunity to prove themselves,” Phillips said in a conference call. “I was there five years, and they’ve gone after a lot of veterans on the downside of their careers.”

The switch-hitting Phillips, who has averaged .281, 144 games played, 154 hits, 100 runs, 26 doubles, 12 homers, 62 RBIs, 104 walks and 10 stolen bases during the last five seasons, doesn’t believe he’s tailing off.

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“As I get older and more experienced I get better,” he said. “I know what I need to do to be successful.”

Said Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann: “Tony has had great numbers offensively in terms of on-base percentage, RBIs and stolen bases. There’s no doubt we gave up a good player. But we got a good player too.”


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