New York Yankees free agent pitcher Dave Righetti announced last night he had decided to accept salary arbitration. Righetti earned $837,500 from the Yankees last season and is expected to seek in the neighborhood of $1.75 million through arbitration.

Detroit's Jack Morris, Milwaukee's Paul Molitor, California's Mike Witt, St. Louis' Jack Clark, Minnesota's Gary Gaetti, Kansas City's Charlie Leibrandt and Houston's Dave Smith remained free agents as last night's midnight (EST) deadline to accept or decline salary arbitration passed.

While others including San Francisco's Atlee Hammaker and the New York Mets' John Candelaria rejected arbitration, many, such as Morris, Witt, Clark, Molitor and Gaetti, are expected to settle with their present clubs.

Detroit's Frank Tanana, Minnesota's Juan Berenguer, Kansas City's Jamie Quirk and Dave LaPoint of the Chicago White Sox accepted arbitration yesterday. Tommy John reached agreement with the New York Yankees on a one-year, $375,000 contract.

Others rejecting arbitration: the Yankees' Bill Gullickson, Kansas City's Thad Bosley, and Danny Darwin and Larry Andersen of Houston.

The champion Twins opted earlier not to offer 1988 contracts to Don Baylor, Steve Carlton, Dan Schatzeder, Mike Smithson and Sal Butera.

If players accept arbitration, they remain with their teams; if they reject it or let it pass, their clubs have until Jan. 8 to sign them or lose that right until May 1 . . .

Meanwhile, the Brewers' Molitor, whose 39-game hitting streak last season was the fourth longest in American League history, was named the winner of the Hutch Award.

The award, voted on by a panel of major league broadcasters and writers, is given to a player who overcomes some form of adversity to have a strong season.

Molitor "best exemplifies the character, dedication and competitive spirit of Fred Hutchinson," who died in 1964 while manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Molitor, 31, has thrived despite a career during which he has been on the disabled list nine times.