ROSEMONT, ILL., DEC. 1 -- Before they could officially get underway this morning, Major League Baseball's winter meetings had their first free agent signing: Outfielder Kirk Gibson left the Los Angeles Dodgers late Friday night for the Kansas City Royals and an incentive-laden, two-year contract worth at least $3.3 million in base salary.
The Dodgers' signing of Darryl Strawberry last month allowed them to part with Gibson, 33, who has been slowed the last two seasons by injuries.
The Royals, who already had lured free agent pitcher Mike Boddicker from the Boston Red Sox with a three-year deal worth $9.25 million, had team physician Steve Joyce examine Gibson on Friday, Gibson's agent, Doug Baldwin, said.
"We believe he's fine now; he showed that last year," said Royals General Manager Herk Robinson, whose club won out over the Milwaukee Brewers after the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos were eliminated.
After overcoming knee and hamstring injuries last season, Gibson batted .260 in 89 games. He wasn't activated until June 2, but he stole 26 bases in 28 tries. He also had 20 doubles, 8 home runs and 38 RBI.
"I don't think it was any one factor; I think it was several," Baldwin said of Gibson's decision to sign with the Royals. Baldwin cited the Royals' chemistry, ability to win and how they plan to use Gibson as some of those factors.
"I was extremely disappointed," said Expos General Manager Dave Dombrowski, who was said to be offering a two-year contract with a base salary between $4.2 million and $4.5 million. "I know it wasn't the dollars."
Baldwin said that some may be surprised Gibson chose the Royals, who play home games on artificial turf, over the Brewers, who play on grass. But, he said, "I don't think that was a big issue with him. Everybody knows artificial turf is harder on the body, but his knee is strong and totally healthy."
But Baldwin said Gibson's new contract has more performance incentives in it "than probably 99 percent of the contracts out there."
Although the Royals released outfielder Willie Wilson and probably will not re-sign free agent outfielder-first baseman Gerald Perry, they still have Bo Jackson, Danny Tartabull and Brian McRae and Jim Eisenreich to play the outfield. Baldwin said the Royals are viewing Gibson as an everyday player for the middle of their batting order, but one who will "see a lot of" designated hitter and "see a lot of time in the field."
The middle of the Royals' everyday batting order, barring injury, could include Kevin Seitzer and George Brett in addition to Gibson, Jackson and Tartabull, although Tartabull's name continues to crop up in trade rumors.
An 11-year veteran, Gibson has a .272 career batting average with 192 home runs and 235 stolen bases.
Commissioner Fay Vincent will not attend the meetings because of respiratory infection. He's at home taking medication and will send his "State of the Game" address, which will be distributed Monday. Deputy Commissioner Steve Greenberg will preside. . . .
The Orioles named Gary Nickels as acting scouting director and Fred Uhlman Jr. as assistant. Nickels, 44, replaces John Barr, who in October became the Padres' assistant general manager. He has been the Orioles' midwest scouting supervisor for two seasons and been scouting 19 years. He will be based in Chicago while Uhlman works out of Baltimore.
General Manager Roland Hemond said Nickels was named in an acting capacity because the club wanted to have someone in place for the meetings and as it begins preparing for June's amateur draft, but it also wants to see how being based in Chicago works out. Several clubs have this type of arrangement, but it is a first for the Orioles, Hemond said.
Uhlman, 23, is the son of Fred Uhlman, a special assistant to Hemond. Uhlman Jr. is going into his fifth year with the Orioles.
In other Orioles scouting matters, advance scout Ed Farmer has left to join the White Sox as a special assistant Ron Schueler, senior vice president of major league operations. They hired Mike Ledna to replace Nickels and Mike Tellier to become a regional scout.
Hemond said he began setting up trade discussion meetings with several clubs. He said he thinks he'll have talks with at least six clubs here. The Red Sox and Indians (outfielder Cory Snyder) are likely to be among those clubs.