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VETERANS ABBOTT, BAERGA FIND NEW HOMES IN NATIONAL LEAGUE

Jim Abbott found a new home Wednesday with the Milwaukee Brewers and Carlos Baerga signed with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Abbott agreed to a $600,000, one-year contract and will take his comeback to the National League, where the one-handed pitcher will have to bat for the first time since high school.

Baerga, whose career slumped the last three years, agreed to a $1.25 million, one-year deal with St. Louis.

Among players in arbitration, left-hander Sterling Hitchcock and the San Diego Padres agreed to a $15.5 million, three-year contract, and left-hander Omar Daal and the Arizona Diamondbacks settled on a $6.75 million, two-year deal.

Abbott, a 31-year-old left-hander, was 5-0 with a 4.55 ERA for the Chicago White Sox last year in five late-season starts after a successful stint in the minor leagues.

"I'm really excited about it," Abbott said. "I'm looking forward to swinging the bat. I hope I can hold my own."

Abbott was 2-18 with the Angels in 1996, then retired after a poor spring training the following year.

"The novelty of my playing I think has long since passed, and I'm as accountable as the next guy down the line. I have to go out there and do well," Abbott said. "And if I can go out there and give my team a chance to win, pick up the innings, that's how you gain respect, not by my switching the glove and all that stuff."

Abbott, who retired after a poor spring training in 1997, gets a $400,000 base salary and the chance to earn $200,000 in performance bonuses. The pitcher and the team have a $1.5 million mutual option for 2000 with a $200,000 buyout.

Baerga, coming off a $21.4 million, six-year contract, gets a $1 million salary, which will be increased to $1.25 million if he's on the opening day roster.

Baerga, a switch hitter, was a three-time All-Star with Cleveland but his production has dropped off sharply since he was traded to the New York Mets in 1996. He hit .266 last year with seven homers and 53 RBIs.

"Carlos is an experienced, quality infielder who gives us good offensive potential at second base and versatility from both sides of the plate," Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said.

St. Louis considered signing Pat Meares, let go last month by Minnesota, and moving him from shortstop to second base. Meares was seeking about $2 million.

Hitchcock gets a $3 million signing bonus, $2.5 million this year and $5 million in each of the next two seasons. He was 9-7 with a 3.93 ERA during the regular season and 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in four postseason starts with 32 strikeouts in 22 innings.

"There's always a desire to play closer to home than all the way across the country, but I'm very comfortable in San Diego," said Hitchcock, who lives in Florida.

Daal gets a $250,000 signing bonus, $2.5 million this season and $3.5 million in 2000. Arizona has a $5.5 million option for 2001 with a $500,000 buyout.

Yanks invite Strawberry to camp

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees have invited Darryl Strawberry and 17 other non-roster players to their major league spring training camp.

Strawberry, 36, hit .247 last year with 24 homers and 57 RBIs, his best season since 1991, but he missed the Yankees' successful postseason after a cancerous tumor was removed from his colon Oct. 3. He agreed to a minor-league contract for 1999 so that he won't count against the Yankees' luxury tax.

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