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Johnson, Vaughn in Viewfinder

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of the hottest commodities on the free-agent market will be in Southern California this weekend when pitcher Randy Johnson meets with the Angels today and the Dodgers on Saturday.

The Dodgers and Johnson’s agent Thursday discussed the parameters of a deal that is believed to be similar to others for the left-hander: three or four years in the range of $12 million a year. The Angels extended such an offer to Johnson last week.

Meanwhile, free-agent first baseman Mo Vaughn is quoted in today’s Boston Herald as saying he is moving closer to a deal with the Angels that could be worth as much as $80 million.

“There’s some work to do and loose ends still to be tied up,” Vaughn said, “but from the way things appear, the deal could be done as early as next week.”

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The Angels made a six-year, $72-million offer to Vaughn two weeks ago, and the former Boston Red Sox slugger said he has spoken to several Angels, including shortstop Gary DiSarcina, pitcher Ken Hill and coaches Larry Bowa and Rod Carew about playing in Anaheim.

“I can’t believe how the people are out there,” Vaughn said. “They have treated me right and made me feel welcome. . . . Right now I’m a happy man.”

Vaughn and Johnson are good friends, but if the Angels can’t afford to sign both--and both have a strong desire to play in Anaheim--then the player who first commits will become an Angel.

That could bring more of a sense of urgency to negotiations for Vaughn, who has no other offers and said there’s “no way” he will go back to the Red Sox.

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But regardless of how it ends, it’s clear the Angels’ pursuit of two premier free agents signals a dramatic shift from their budget-conscious, corner-cutting approach of recent years.

“I was knocked off my chair when I heard what we offered Mo,” DiSarcina said. “It showed that we’re going to go for it, that we’re tired of finishing in second place.”

DiSarcina is about 2,500 miles away, in his Massachusetts home, but he wishes he could take part in negotiations for Johnson.

“I’d give him a clause in his contract that would allow him to fly home to Phoenix for the four days he isn’t pitching,” DiSarcina said. “You’re talking about a guy who can change the dynamics of your team.”

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DiSarcina and his teammates are doing what they can to foster change, taking an active role in the recruiting process. Pitcher Chuck Finley and right fielder Tim Salmon extolled Anaheim’s virtues in phone conversations with Johnson, and DiSarcina and others have courted Vaughn.

“A guy can tour a stadium, talk to the general manager, but sometimes it’s more meaningful to hear a perspective from a guy you’re going to be down in the foxhole with,” DiSarcina said. Did he make any particular sales pitch? “Yeah, I told him he has 72 million reasons to sign with us.”

And if Vaughn accepts?

“Then maybe Randy Johnson says, ‘Hey, these guys are going for it--I want to play here,’ ” DiSarcina said. “It sends a message to other players and changes the complexion of the team. It’s no longer, ‘If everything falls into place and we stay healthy, we’ll have a chance to win.’ It’s, ‘Bang, these guys are front-runners.’ ”

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Staff writers Ross Newhan and Steve Springer contributed to this story.


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