The Oakland Athletics took a major step toward defending their American League championship Saturday, reaching an agreement on a new four-year contract with Cy Young winner Bob Welch.

While terms of the pact were not released, it was rumored to be in the $2 million to $3 million a season range.Oakland found itself in a bidding war with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox for Welch's services after the veteran righthander filed for free agency on Oct. 25.

Welch had a career year in 1990, winning 27 games - the most in the Major Leagues since Denny McClain won 31 in 1968 - and capturing the coveted American League Cy Young Award.

In addition to his 27-6 record, Welch worked more than 200 innings for the fifth consecutive year and struck out more than 100 batters for eighth time in the last nine.

The 34-year-old is 176-109 for his career with a 3.16 ERA and 1,714 strikeouts.


LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday signed new-look free agent center fielder Brett Butler to a 3-year contract worth $10 million. The deal includes an option year worth an additional $3 million.

Butler, an 8-year veteran, is the third free agent signed by the Dodgers in the offseason. Last month Los Angeles signed outfielder Darryl Strawberry to a 5-year contract worth $20.3 million. Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gross signed with Los Angeles at the recent winter meetings.

Butler's signing relieves the Dodgers of the dilemma of where to play Strawberry, who was considered a candidate for center. Instead, he'll probably play in right, the position he's played his entire career.

To make room for Butler on their roster, the Dodgers gave left-handed pitcher Ray Searage an unconditional release.


NEW YORK - The New York Mets acquired outfielder Hubie Brooks from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday in exchange for left-hander Bob Ojeda and minor league pitcher Greg Hansell.

The 34-year-old Brooks, who came up with the Mets in 1980, had one of his best seasons after signing with the Dodgers as a free agent in 1990. He tied his career-high with 20 home runs and drove in 90 runs while batting .266.

Ojeda, who will turn 33 Monday, was 7-6 with a 3.66 earned run average last season both as a starter and reliever.

Hansell, 19, was 9-14 with a 3.35 ERA while splitting time last season between Port St. Lucie and Winter Haven of the Class A Florida State League. He was one of three players acquired by the Mets last summer in the trade that sent outfielder Mike Marshall to the Boston Red Sox.


BOSTON - Jack Clark left the feuding San Diego Padres on Saturday and agreed to a three-year, $8.7 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.

Clark, 35, could make as much as $10.2 million if he earns the $500,000 per year in performance bonuses that are available in the deal. The four-time All-Star, returning to the American League after a three-year absence, will be the designated hitter for the Red Sox.BOSTON - The Boston Red Sox traded right-hander Wes Gardner to the San Diego Padres Saturday for two minor-league players, first baseman-outfielder Steve Hendricks and left-hander Brad Hoyer.

Red Sox General Manager Lou Gorman announced the trade shortly after reporting the signing of right-handed slugger Jack Clark as a free agent.

Gardner, 29, was 3-7 with a 4.89 earned run average in 34 games, including nine starts last season.