Randy Johnson Rumors

NL West Notes: Dodgers, Giants, Quackenbush

Ten years ago today, the Diamondbacks’ Randy Johnson tossed a perfect game against the Braves. The Big Unit was fairly blunt when asked to reflect upon his gem by MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert. “That’s the one thing that I’ve noticed since I’ve stopped playing baseball is that I’m getting older, because time just doesn’t stop,” Johnson said. “Next thing you know we’re having a 10-year anniversary for the World Series and now a 10-year anniversary for my perfect game. It just doesn’t seem that long ago that I threw that perfect game. Although it does feel like 10 years as far as me remembering details of it, because I don’t remember many of the details of the game.” Johnson (owner of 303 wins, five Cy Young Awards, and second place on the all-time strikeout list) will be on his first Hall of Fame ballot next year and is keeping busy in retirement with photography and traveling in support of the USO. 

In news and notes from the National League’s West Division:

  • The Giants discussed the idea of hiring Tony LaRussa, but there wasn’t a fit since the team is happy with their baseball decision-makers and the Hall of Fame manager wasn’t interested in a strictly advisory role, reports Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (on Sulia).
  • The Dodgers will face a roster crunch when Hyun-jin Ryu is activated from the disabled list Wednesday, writes MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick. Paul Maholm, who replaced Ryu in the starting rotation, will shift to the bullpen, so the Dodgers may have to keep 13 pitchers because their current relievers either have guaranteed contracts and cannot be optioned to the minors (Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, J.P. Howell, and Jamey Wright) or have prominent late-inning roles (Kenley Jansen and Chris Withrow).
  • Corey Brock of MLB.com chronicles the travels of Padres reliever Kevin Quackenbush, who has shuttled back-and-forth between San Diego and Triple-A El Paso five times since April 25. This is where I want to be, so every time I’m up here, it’s a blessing,” the 25-year-old right-hander said. “It is something to laugh about a bit, I guess. But it’s still exciting.

Free Agent Retrospective: Randy Johnson

Few pitchers have dominated the opposition for a four-year period the way Randy Johnson did from 1999-2002. He averaged 258 innings, 354 strikeouts and 20 wins per season. He posted a cumulative ERA of 2.48 at a time that offensive numbers were peaking (187 ERA+). He won four Cy Young Awards in as many years.

Johnson accomplished this in a Diamondbacks uniform, helping the franchise capture its first World Series championship in 2001. But as agent Barry Meister recently explained to MLB Trade Rumors, the left-hander could just as easily have ended up in Texas or Los Angeles if Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo hadn’t made Johnson and his family a franchise-altering pitch.

When Johnson hit free agency following the 1998 season, he was sure to draw interest. The 6'10" left-hander posted a 3.28 ERA with 329 strikeouts in 244 1/3 innings in his walk year. Plus, his performance improved dramatically in the second half after the Mariners traded him to the Astros.

As expected, many teams expressed some level of interest in Johnson once the World Series ended. Meister recalls that it soon became clear that five clubs were much more serious than the rest: the Rangers, Astros, Angels, Dodgers and Diamondbacks.

Randy Johnson - Giants (PW)

“The actual odyssey of Randy getting to Arizona was fascinating,” Meister said in a recent conversation with MLBTR. “You’ve got five highly motivated clubs with significant resources, five owners who all want to win and who feel like this is the piece to the puzzle. It was a highly charged time.”

Above all else Johnson wanted the chance to play for a contending West Coast team. Both Texas teams and both Los Angeles area teams seemed poised to contend, but the expansion Diamondbacks had finished 65-97 in their inaugural 1998 season and weren’t viewed as a playoff threat. 

“All five clubs had a completely different approach,” said Meister, who represented Johnson along with agent Alan Nero at the time.

Johnson, who had just turned 35, was not positioned to obtain a long-term deal at his age. Kevin Brown, also a free agent during the 1998-99 offseason, had a better chance at signing a lengthy deal and ultimately became baseball's first $100MM pitcher the same month Johnson signed.

“We knew we weren’t going to get the same number of years because Randy at this point was already in his mid-thirties,” Meister said, noting that Johnson pitched until he was 46. But even at the age of 35 Johnson generated intense interest from around MLB.

The Bidders

Colangelo, the longtime longtime Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns executive, proved to be a persuasive advocate for Arizona. He told Johnson multiple times that the Diamondbacks could win a championship if he signed with them. Johnson also liked also liked manager Bob Brenly and general manager Joe Garagiola Jr., which didn’t hurt. Nevertheless, signing elite free agents requires more than a friendly face or two.

Astros owner Drayton McLane, Johnson’s most recent employer, flew to Arizona, where Johnson and his family lived. Johnson had just posted a 1.28 ERA down the stretch for the Astros, winning ten of his 11 starts. Naturally, the owner wanted to re-sign the star left-hander. Meister recalls McLane saying that he would have "crawled on broken glass across the desert" to get Johnson’s name on a contract. Grand declarations aside, the Astros entered the sweepstakes as a longshot.

Not to be outdone, Rangers owner Tom Hicks sent a 727 to fly Johnson to Texas. It was an impressive show that concluded with a four-year, $48MM offer, yet Johnson preferred cities closer to the West Coast.

He had attended USC before beginning his professional playing career, which meant Los Angeles was familiar territory. Then, as now, the Dodgers had deeper pockets than other teams. They reached out to Johnson with Tommy Lasorda and Eric Karros, expressing serious interest before demonstrating that they were ready to spend big. The Dodgers told Meister and Nero that if they asked for a reasonable number they’d find the money for Johnson. “They were ready to throw money at the issue,” Meister said. The Dodgers seemed prepared to spend $60MM for four years and maybe even $75-90MM for five or six years — massive sums at the time.

“We said ‘Randy you’ll get whatever you want from these guys,’” Meister recalls.

The Disney-owned Angels said they had enough payroll to sign Mo Vaughn, Kevin Brown and Johnson. Other than that, however, they weren’t saying the right things early on. Johnson would attend a Mighty Ducks NHL game and meet star right wing Teemu Selanne and Michael Eisner, the CEO of Disney himself. Early on, Meister recalls, the Dodgers and Angels were the frontrunners for Johnson.

Johnson’s Decision

After hearing the five teams make their respective pitches, Johnson’s camp informed the Rangers and Astros that they had been ruled out. The Angels started to look unlikely, too. After signing Mo Vaughn, Angels personnel said they’d want to sign Johnson for a deal including deferred money, which made their offer less appealing. With that, Johnson, Meister and Nero informed the Angels that they were out and that Johnson would sign with the Dodgers or the Diamondbacks.

Soon afterwards, Colangelo visited Johnson’s family in Phoenix to make his case for the final time. He repeated his promise that the Diamondbacks would win with Johnson and outlined his plan a second time. Meister remembers Colangelo as impressively honest and straightforward. 

His offer was competitive, too. Though the Diamondbacks had limited payroll flexibility, they told Johnson he could have whatever perks he wanted. This appealed to Johnson and his representatives.

“When he leaves we’re stunned,” Meister said. “It’s the most impressive, honest, giving presentation we’ve ever had. It just blows us away.”

Colangelo had outlined a deal that would provide Johnson with courtside seats at Suns games, membership at a prestigious nearby golf club, top treatment for his family and financial contributions toward an expensive insurance policy. The Diamondbacks were starting to separate themselves from their division rival, the Dodgers.

“Every discussion with the Dodgers was ‘what’ll it take?’” Meister recalls. “And every discussion with the Diamondbacks was ‘What can I do for you? What can I do to make this work? How can we make you our partner?’”

The Diamondbacks’ offer was competitive from a financial standpoint, too. Arizona offered $52.4MM over four years with an option for a fifth year. The offer had significant escalators and incentives, plus the aforementioned perks. Arizona’s proposal included a $500K Cy Young bonus that would double with each additional Cy Young. Johnson accepted.

“In the end he probably took a little less money to be where he knew it was the right place to be, and he was right,” Meister said. “It was the right manager. It was the right owner. It was the right general manager. With Curt Schilling there [starting in 2000] it was the right pitching staff.”

At the time it might not have seemed prudent for a 97-loss expansion team to invest so heavily in a 35-year-old pitcher. Few players would have justified the expense. Johnson, ever the exception to prove the rule, did just that, winning four Cy Young awards and leading the Diamondbacks to a World Series title. Colangelo's investment couldn't have worked out any better.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Largest Contracts In Team History

We've already looked at the largest contracts by service time and position, so let's now dig up the largest contracts ever given out by each of the 30 teams. These are in terms of guaranteed money only, but some could end up being even larger because of incentives and option years.

Thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for the info.

Randy Johnson To Announce Retirement

4:04pm: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that the conference call has been moved up to tonight, and that The Big Unit will indeed announce his retirement.

2:47pm: According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter), it appears that Randy Johnson will announce his retirement tomorrow morning.  A bunch of other reporters are talking about tomorrow's poorly-timed conference call as well.

Johnson would finish with five Cy Young awards, 303 wins, 4,875 strikeouts, and a 3.29 ERA in 4,135.3 career innings.  Baseball-Reference puts his career earnings at $175.55MM.

Odds & Ends: Unit, Rhodes, Crisp, Valverde

More links for the evening…

Giants Do Not Offer Arb To Any Free Agents

The Giants did not offer arbitration to any of their free agents – Type A catcher Bengie Molina and Type Bs Bob Howry, Randy Johnson, and Randy Winn.  It's a mixed result for Molina – he's more attractive to other teams (the Mets, for example) now that he will not cost a draft pick, but if he'd been offered and accepted arbitration he probably would've maximized his 2010 salary.

Odds & Ends: Towers, Randy Johnson, Arroyo

Links for Monday…

Giants Rumors: Molina, Pudge, Bay, Holliday

Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News reports that the Giants are open to bringing Bengie Molina back, but prepared in case the catcher signs elsewhere. Here are the details:

  • The Giants won't likely offer Molina much more than the $6MM he made this year.
  • Molina wants a two-year deal, so Baggarly says the 35-year-old is unlikely to re-sign with the Giants.
  • The Mets could have interest, and Baggarly says an unnamed AL team expects to get involved, too.
  • Baggarly expects the Giants to offer Molina arbitration, but would be surprised to see the team extend similar offers to Bob Howry, Randy Johnson or Randy Winn.
  • The Giants have tried to acquire Ivan Rodriguez before, so they could bring him in to mentor Buster Posey and provide the club with insurance in case the top prospect struggles.
  • The Giants believe Matt Holliday's defense regressed a shocking amount last year.
  • Jason Bay seems like a better fit for the Giants.

Odds & Ends: Sandberg, Yanks, Padres, Upton

Some links to read before the final weekend of the regular season…

Sabean, Bochy To Return, Payroll To Increase

The San Francisco Giants will bring both General Manager Brian Sabean and Manager Bruce Bochy back for the 2010 season, according to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sabean is completing his thirteenth season at the helm, while Bochy has been skipper for three seasons. Both have been the subject of rumors, but the unexpected challenge by the Giants for the Wild Card has likely been their savior.

Giants' Managing General Partner Bill Neukom also said he expected San Francisco's payroll to rise in 2010.

The Giants have about $28MM coming off the books for 2010, between Dave Roberts, Bengie Molina, Randy Winn and Randy Johnson. Of course, the arbitration eligibility of Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson will eat into that number significantly.