ROSEMONT, ILL., DEC. 3 -- National League Expansion Committee Chairman Douglas Danforth said today that when the committee announces its short list of finalists it generally will pick one prospective ownership group per city rather than the cities themselves.

"We think it's going to be groups except one case, where there are two groups that are very strong," he said on the third day of Major League Baseball's winter meetings that was highlighted by the San Francisco Giants' signing of NL batting champion Willie McGee.

Danforth, the Pirates' chairman, said the committee -- whose other members are NL President Bill White, the Astros' John McMullen and the Mets' Fred Wilpon -- will meet here Tuesday. And based on comments McMullen made today before Danforth's mid-afternoon arrival, the issue is not closed.

"There's no point in picking {groups} because we have to visit the cities anyway," McMullen said. "We might as well give as many people the opportunity to make a local presentation as possible."

Seventeen groups representing 10 cities remain in contention for the two franchises that will begin play in 1993. The committee is to announce the short list by the end of the year, although sources have said the date is flexible.

Danforth said the short list will be at least four finalists and at most six, with the committee "looking toward" six. With Phoenix having ownership problems, groups from Washington, Buffalo, Denver, Miami, Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg would most likely make the list.

A decision by the committee to pick cities as finalists rather than groups would help Capital Baseball, the group seeking a team for Northern Virginia. Washington also is represented by Metropolitan Washington Baseball, a group led by John Akridge that would like to base a team at RFK Stadium. Miami and Tampa-St. Petersburg, which each has three groups, are the only other cities with more than one.

Capital Baseball's organizer, Bart Fisher, is still reconstructing the bid withdrawn by Capital Region Baseball. Although the new group has submitted its own response to the committee's questionnaire and a $100,000 deposit on the $95 million entry fee, Fisher said Sunday he plans to submit more information by Friday.

Danforth said the committee would be discussing Capital Baseball's standing Tuesday. "We're going to get an update on that," he said this afternoon. "I haven't seen their new proposal."

In other activity today owners spent more than $40 million as five teams signed free agents and one re-signed a potential free agent.

McGee, last season's NL batting champion who was traded Aug. 29 from the Cardinals to the AL Oakland Athletics, signed a four-year contract worth $13 million. The Expos re-signed pitcher Dennis Martinez to a three-year deal worth $9.5 million. Third baseman Terry Pendleton left the Cardinals for the Braves and a four-year contract believed to be worth $10 million. Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gross left the Expos for a three-year deal with the Dodgers worth $6.4 million. Pitcher Bill Gullickson left the Astros for the Tigers and a two-year contract, terms undisclosed, and the Athletics signed speedster Willie Wilson from the Royals for two years at nearly $1 million a year.

The Red Sox offered Matt Young $7 million for three years, likely topping what the Orioles have offered.

In the only trade of the day, the Yankees sent outfielder Oscar Azocar to the Padres for a minor-leaguer to be named.

The Giants' and Expos' moves were made with an eye toward the proposed collusion settlement, which would give 16 players so-called new-look free agency.

Martinez had a year left on his contract, but he would have become a new-look free agent. The Giants expect to lose center fielder Brett Butler, another potential new-look free agent, and Giants General Manager Al Rosen said Butler wants a four-year deal worth $15 million. He has two years left on a contract worth $1.3 million a year.