Locals Are One Unit Shy
The not-so-mighty Angels and Dodgers struck out in their pursuit of free-agent left-hander Randy Johnson, who agreed to a four-year, $52.4-million deal with his hometown Arizona Diamondbacks Monday.
Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi and Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone hoped to fill considerable voids in their rotations with Johnson, who is now the highest-paid pitcher in baseball, and both teams--along with the Texas Rangers--made offers to Johnson in the four-year, $50-million range.
But Johnson’s decision didn’t exactly turn Bavasi or Malone into the incredible sulk.
“It’s disappointing, but that’s life,” Bavasi said. “We’ll move on. We’ll get someone else.”
The Dodgers quickly shifted to Plan B, which for them meant stepping up efforts to acquire pitcher Kevin Brown, the free-agent ace of the San Diego Padre staff.
The Angels have shown an outside interest in Brown, but appear more likely to try to boost their rotation by trading center fielder Jim Edmonds for a pitcher.
According to a baseball source, the Angels were on the phone discussing possible deals for Edmonds within hours of Johnson’s announcement. One potential trade would send Edmonds to Arizona for pitcher Andy Benes, although Benes has a no-trade clause and would have to approve any deal. Another would send Edmonds and probably a prospect to Pittsburgh for pitcher Francisco Cordova and second baseman Tony Womack.
With Wednesday’s signing of first baseman Mo Vaughn to a six-year, $80-million contract and Darin Erstad moving from first base to the outfield, the Angels have a surplus of outfielders and could package Edmonds or Garret Anderson in a deal for a pitcher.
But Bavasi insisted Monday that although the Angels would “leave no stone unturned” in their search for pitching, they are not vigorously pursuing a deal for Edmonds.
“We will listen to anything, but we are not shopping him,” Bavasi said. “We do not call teams and offer this guy around. If a club shows interest, we will talk.”
Edmonds has been at the center of trade speculation since the day the Angels signed Erstad in 1995, and Bavasi has said for years he would only trade the Gold Glove outfielder for a No. 1-caliber pitcher. The problem is, few teams are willing to part with the kind of pitchers the Angels would demand.
“It’s virtually impossible to trade for an ace, because there are so few available,” Bavasi said. “That’s why a lot of what’s being said about Edmonds is unfair. We can’t lower our sights on what we can get for him.”
Further complicating a potential deal for Edmonds: As a player with five years of big league service in the middle of a multiyear contract, Edmonds could demand another trade after the season in which a team traded for him.
Paul Cohen, Edmonds’ agent, said the outfielder would be open to deals with the Padres, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Mets, Yankees, Braves, Cubs and Orioles. Other teams would probably shy away from Edmonds, for fear they would only have him for one season.
“His preference is to stay,” Cohen said. “But I can’t tell you he hasn’t been troubled by the events of the last four weeks.”
Had the Angels signed Johnson, the need to trade Edmonds would have been eliminated, and right up to midnight Sunday, the Angels felt their chances of acquiring one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers were excellent.
But according to a source familiar with negotiations, the Angels were the only team among the four finalists that did not improve its offer over the weekend.
“The Angels were debated until very, very late [Sunday], and Randy was very interested in them,” said Barry Meister, one of Johnson’s agents. “Being in the American League West and training in Arizona were positives for them, and Bavasi and [legal counsel] Mark Rosenthal did everything right. There was nothing else they could have done to change the outcome.”
Johnson, who has a 143-79 record and 2,329 strikeouts, would have been a major addition to an Angel rotation that is led by aging left-hander Chuck Finley and injury-plagued right-hander Ken Hill.
“But at least he’s not in our league or our division,” Angel third base coach Larry Bowa said. “I would have hated to see him go to Texas.”
Instead, the Dodgers and the rest of the National League West will have to contend with Johnson and the Diamondbacks, whose rotation will be filled out by recently signed Todd Stottlemyre and Armando Reynoso, Benes, and either Brian Anderson or Omar Daal.
“I’m not going to call us a contender,” Arizona Owner Jerry Colangelo said. “But what I’m hearing from people in baseball is that our starting rotation could be one of the top two or three in the game.”
For that, Colangelo can thank the fact that Johnson lives in nearby Paradise Valley, Ariz., about a 20-minute drive from Bank One Ballpark, and has a wife and three young children. Colangelo’s aggressive plan to improve the expansion Diamondbacks’ 65-97 record last season also helped.
“Being home was obviously a factor, and it came down to absolutely the narrowest of margins,” Meister said. “But Randy also felt Arizona is on the verge of being a very competitive club. . . . He wouldn’t be going to Arizona if he didn’t think they had a chance to win the World Series in the next four years.”
Johnson has already done his part to help, agreeing to defer about half of his contract to 2003-2006. The pitcher will receive a $5-million signing bonus, $7.35 million in 1999 and $12.35 million in each of the following three seasons. Arizona has a $12-million option for 2003 with a $3-million buyout.
But only $27.35 million of the contract will be paid during the next four years, with $25.05 million deferred at 6% interest to the following four years.
“Randy wants to win,” Meister said. “Deferring his contract frees up current money so the Diamondbacks can go after more players. It’s a win-win for both sides.”
Some thought signing a 35-year-old pitcher with a history of back problems--Johnson missed most of 1996 because of injury--was a risk, but Colangelo felt it was worth it. And Johnson proved he was physically sound after his trade by Seattle to Houston last July 31, going 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings with the Astros.
“The market dictates what you need to do, and the fact is, that was what the market was for Randy,” Colangelo said. “To play the game, you have to accept the risk. And this is not a blind risk. He is that dominant to where you would be prepared to take that risk with him more than with someone else.”
Ross Newhan: One pitcher down and now the Dodgers turn to Kevin Brown. But is he another lost cause? Page 5
New Look: Next season, “Dodgers” will be replaced on road uniforms with “Los Angeles.” Page 5
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Five highest-paid pitchers
(listed by average annual salary):
Randy Johnson, Arizona
Pedro Martinez, Boston
Greg Maddux, Atlanta
Roger Clemens, Toronto
Tom Glavine, Atlanta
Five highest paid non-pitchers
(listed by average annual salary):
Mo Vaughn, Angels
Mike Piazza, New York Mets
Albert Belle, Baltimore
Bernie Williams, New York Yankees
Barry Bonds, San Francisco
A look at where new Diamondback pitcher Randy Johnson ranks in major pitching categories in the 1990s:
Wins: Fourth (133)
Behind Greg Maddux (157), Tom Glavine (150) and Roger Clemens (138)
Winning Percentage: First (.668)
Complete Games: First (23)
Walks: First (840)
Strikeouts: First (2,174)
Strikeouts per 9 innings: First (10.88)
ERA: Sixth (3.24)
Behind Greg Maddux (2.44), Jose Rijo (2.74), Roger Clemens (2.87), Tom Glavine (3.10), and David Cone (3.19)
Opponent Batting Average: First (.203)
(National Edition) Standing Tall
A look at where Randy Johnson ranks in major pitching categories in the 1990s:
1. Greg Maddux: 157
2. Tom Glavine: 150
3. Roger Clemens: 138
4. Randy Johnson: 133
5. John Smoltz: 132
1. Randy Johnson: .668
2. Mike Mussina: .667
3. Greg Maddux: .665
4. Tom Glavine: .664
5. Pedro Martinez: .646
1. Randy Johnson: 23
1. Greg Maddux: 23
1. Roger Clemens: 23
4. Ramon Martinez: 18
5. David Cone: 15