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Velarde Signs With Angels to Play Every Day--Somewhere : Baseball: He’ll be the regular at second or third base, depending on the team’s other moves.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Free-agent infielder Randy Velarde chose to sign a three-year, $2.45-million contract with the Angels Wednesday because they offered him the best opportunity to play every day.

But where?

“It will be either second base or third, we’ll see,” Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi said. “He’s very solid at both positions and he’ll give us a chance to review what’s available at second or third, in our own organization and the free-agent pool. We’ll try to get the strongest player possible [at either of those positions] and have Randy fill the other spot.”

Bavasi said second baseman Damion Easley, who hit .215 in 1994 and .216 in ’95, remains “as much a part of the club as Randy Velarde.” Bavasi also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the Angels re-signing free-agent third baseman Tony Phillips.

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But with the signing of Velarde, who will make $800,000 in both the 1996 and ’97 seasons and $850,000 in ’98, Easley’s position becomes much more tenuous, and Phillips--who made $3.5 million in 1995, $1.9 million of which was paid by the Angels--is as good as gone.

“I guess this wouldn’t bode well for Tony, but that doesn’t concern me, because he has a lot of teams interested in him,” said Tony Attanasio, Phillips’ agent. “He’s not going to cry about it.”

The Angels are believed to be interested in several free-agent third basemen, including Milwaukee’s Kevin Seitzer, Philadelphia’s Charlie Hayes and Florida’s Jerry Browne.

Second basemen Mariano Duncan of Cincinnati and Jody Reed of San Diego are among the better players available in the Angels’ price range, and former Dodger third baseman Tim Wallach has expressed interest in finishing his career in Anaheim.

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But if the Angels are unable to add another infielder, Easley, third basemen Eduardo Perez and, possibly, minor league third base prospect George Arias, would battle for the final infield spot next spring.

Velarde, 33, established himself as one of baseball’s best utility players with the Yankees from 1987-95, playing all four infield positions and left and right field.

He averaged only 198 at-bats a season through 1994 but showed in 1995 that he could be an effective every-day player, batting .278 (102 for 367) with 60 runs, 19 doubles, seven homers and 46 RBIs in 111 games.

Velarde, who replaced the injured Pat Kelly at second in late July and essentially won the job, drew 55 walks, struck out only 64 times and had a .375 on-base percentage, which makes him a candidate for the Angels’ lead-off spot if Phillips is not re-signed.

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“I’d prefer second base over third, but as long as I get to play, I’ll be fine,” said Velarde, who made $500,000 in 1995, $350,000 in base salary and $150,000 in incentives. “It’s so tough moving all around the infield and the outfield. I’d like to concentrate on one position and see what types of numbers I could put up.”

Velarde listed three reasons why he chose the Angels over the Yankees, Phillies and Dodgers: “Playing time, security, and being on a team that’s going to be a contender,” he said. “The Angels matched all three.”

Only the Angels offered three years guaranteed, Velarde said. The Yankees offered a two-year contract with an option for a third year, and the Phillies and Dodgers each offered two-year deals.

“The contract offer from the Angels was just better,” said Adam Katz, Velarde’s agent.

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Beyond his statistics, Velarde is a hard-nosed player who had a reputation as being a leader in the Yankee clubhouse and a team player on the field, a guy who does the little things it takes to win--advancing runners, turning the double play, taking the extra base.

If the Yankees offer Velarde arbitration by Dec. 7 as expected, the Angels will have to relinquish a second-round pick to the Yankees as compensation for signing Velarde. But Bavasi thinks it’s worth it.

“The guys everyone respects on our club respect Velarde, and I never heard a bad thing about him,” Bavasi said. “And someone who was with the Yankees whom I trust a great deal had nothing but praise for the guy.”


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