Dave Righetti, the Yankees' most distinguished pitcher, has decided not to accept the offer of $10 million to work at his trade in Japan for the next two years. By great force of will, plus a surge of patriotism, he has opted to pitch American, agreeing to sign a three-year, $4.3 million deal just two days after accepting the Yankees' offer of salary arbitration last weekend.

Righetti and his New York employers finally confirmed yesterday that an agreement in principle had been reached. Until then, however, the dollar discrepancy between the Yankees' view of Righetti and that of the Japanese was quite fascinating.

As for those of suspicious mind who would view the vague offer to Righetti from Japan as an artless exercise in hyping a deal with the Yankees, Bill Goodstein, the player's agent, scoffs at such distrust.

Agent Goodstein says the offer was firm and that he "will stake my 24-year reputation as a lawyer that there was an honest negotiation with the Japanese," and also that Righetti personally participated in it. It was not, he says, a $10 million caper, although nobody from the Tokyo Giants, the reported source of the offer, came forward to confirm it.

Goodstein told Murray Chass of the New York Times that, "The Japanese do not want to be used as a bargaining tool." Perhaps none is more experienced in perceiving bargaining tools than a player agent.

And, perhaps significantly, Bill Gullickson's agent is now saying his man has an offer from the Japanese. Gullickson is also a Yankees pitcher involved in a haggle over salary trends with the team, and could be aware of the usefulness of an offer from the Japanese.

Meanwhile, George Steinbrenner entered the fray with an assault against both Righetti and the Japanese. He flailed at his pitcher for an egregious lack of "loyalty," demonstrated by Righetti's sin of even considering a move from the warm, family-like ambiance of the Yankees, best exemplified by even-tempered Steinbrenner himself.

For the Japanese, statesman Steinbrenner had even sterner warnings. Their invasion into the affairs of American baseball, he said, would not go unnoticed, and he hinted that all appropriate action would be taken. Aside from saying that what the Japanese did was imprudent, he did not specify his intentions, but they could well include drastic action by Steinbrenner on the trade gap, and even a demand for on-site inspection of dumping pads.

Righetti's agent did not content himself with alerting the Yankees to the Japanese interest in his client, but also let it be known that eight other teams, later reduced to five, were eager to dicker for the pitcher's services. This was telling Steinbrenner his man was much in demand and thus the Yankees must harken to the realities of the situation.

For several weeks, the negotiations had been stuck, with Righetti demanding a three-year deal at $1.5 million a season, and the Yankees at first standing firm on a $1.2 million offer for only two years. This is the new tactic of the club owners -- no more long-term contracts that secure a player's position while guaranteeing the owners no level of performance. Too many clubs have been burned by such extended agreements. The Yankees are now taking that risk.

Righetti and his agent earlier this week had announced a sudden disinterest in the Japanese yen for his services by declaring they would accept arbitration, the apparatus by which an authorized third party determines how much a team must pay a player.

Arbitrators don't award more than one-year contracts, which caused some wonderment as to why Righetti had consented to the procedure in light of his previously strong demands for the protections of a three-year agreement. But, ha, there was a good reason. A year hence, Righetti would have had status as a free agent, able to shop around and float his skills to the 26 teams in both leagues.

Righetti and his agent were also aware that, in these times, a free agent's position can be an enviable one, particularly for a pitcher who in the last four years has had 137 saves. However, the Yankees' three-year deal tempted them to sign, ending the need for arbitration.

The club owners have been badly hurt in their gentlemen's agreement efforts to circumvent free agency by quietly refusing to sign another team's stars. They face damages of millions for their 1985 plot, ruled a conspiracy, and still must face charges of similar malfeasance in 1986. 'Tis a dangerous game now for club owners to ignore, in concert, the free agent group.

As a free agent at the end of 1988, Righetti would have done very well in the marketplace. A standout relief pitcher is a precious commodity. So, in the future, for any player who would hype the bidding, the way has been pointed to foreign aid. Specifically, there's always an ally in the Land of the Rising Sum.