Randy Johnson Rumors
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
- Angels: Torii Hunter, five years, $90MM
- Astros: Carlos Lee, six years, $100MM
- Athletics: Eric Chavez, six years, $66MM
- Blue Jays: Vernon Wells, seven years, $126MM
- Braves: Chipper Jones, six years, $90MM
- Brewers: Ryan Braun, eight years, $45MM
- Cardinals: Matt Holliday, seven years, $120MM
- Cubs: Alfonso Soriano, eight years, $136MM
- Diamondbacks: Randy Johnson, four years, $53.4MM
- Dodgers: Kevin Brown, seven years, $105MM
- Giants: Barry Zito, seven years, $126MM
- Indians: Travis Hafner, four years, $57MM
- Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki, five years, $90MM
- Marlins: Hanley Ramirez, six years, $70MM
- Mets: Johan Santana, six years, $137.5MM
- Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman, five years, $45MM
- Orioles: Miguel Tejada, six years, $72MM
- Padres: Jake Peavy, three years, $52MM
- Phillies: Chase Utley, seven years, $85MM
- Pirates: Jason Kendall, six years, $60MM
- Rangers: Alex Rodriguez, ten years, $252MM
- Rays: Wilson Alvarez, five years, $35MM
- Reds: Ken Griffey Jr., nine years, $116.5MM
- Red Sox: Manny Ramirez, eight years, $160MM
- Rockies: Todd Helton, nine years, $141.5MM
- Royals: Gil Meche & Mike Sweeney, both five years, $55MM
- Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, eight years, $152.3MM
- Twins: Joe Mauer, eight years, $184MM
- White Sox: Frank Thomas, seven years, $64.4MM
- Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, ten years, $275MM
Thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for the info.
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.
More links for the evening...
- The Red Sox will find out tomorrow if their claim on Rays righty Ramon A. Ramirez went through, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. This isn't the same Ramon Ramirez that appeared in 70 games for Boston last year.
- Randy Johnson is still undecided about 2010, according to this AP report on ESPN.com.
- The Rangers discussed Arthur Rhodes with the Reds today, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. The Rangers are on the lookout for lefty relievers.
- The Rangers are considering Jason Kendall and Rod Barajas behind the plate, according to Sullivan. ESPN.com's Keith Law says this is a problem for the Rangers. He doesn't think much of any of the free agent catchers they're considering.
- Coco Crisp would be up for signing with the White Sox, according to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune.
- Talks between the Twins and Joe Crede are progressing slowly, according to MLB.com's Kelly Thesier.
- The Mariners are keeping in touch with Rich Harden's agents, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.
- The Nats were interested in Jose Valverde, but they felt his asking price was too high, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson.
- Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times reports that Scott Boras will meet with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik tonight. Adrian Beltre is one of Boras' clients, so they'll presumably discuss him.
- White Sox reliever Matt Thornton tells Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times that he's recruiting J.J. Putz. Thornton says he and Putz have a long-standing "bromance" that dates back to their Seattle days.
- ESPN.com's Keith Law says Justin Smoak and Neftali Feliz are too much to give up for Josh Johnson. Apparently, the Rangers offered the pair of top prospects up.
- Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus likes the Ivan Rodriguez signing for the Nats, partly because Pudge could help develop Stephen Strasburg.
- By the way, the deal is pending a physical, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson.
- The Braves are interested in Xavier Nady, according to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Jon Heyman of SI.com says the Mets may be more inclined to pay top dollar for John Lackey now that they've seen the asking prices of some lesser starters.
- The Cardinals won't be involved with Lackey, but they have interest in signing a lefty bench bat, according to MLB.com's Matthew Leach.
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.
Links for Monday...
- Former GM Kevin Towers will attend the Winter Meetings and meet with three or four teams about possible employment, according to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Towers prefers the American League.
- Randy Johnson is undecided about pitching in 2010, say Rosenthal and Morosi.
- MLB.com's Mark Bowman tells readers in his latest mailbag that he wouldn't be surprised to see the Braves trade Jordan Schafer.
- Mike Axisa of River Ave. Blues speculates on what the Yankees would have to give up for Josh Johnson.
- ESPN's Buster Olney compares a potential Joe Mauer extension to Todd Helton's contract, in that it'd make up such a large percentage of the Twins' payroll.
- Juan C. Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel discovered that a handful of teams have avoided four-year commitments to pitchers in recent years.
- Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos talked to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports about the team's strategy to beef up scouting.
- For someone who hasn't been paying attention to the hot stove, Bronson Arroyo has a reasonable take on the Reds' direction and recent Scott Rolen/Ramon Hernandez commitments (MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reporting).
- ESPN's Jerry Crasnick discusses the role of advanced defensive metrics in player acquisitions.
- MetsBlog's Matthew Cerrone notes that a very similar report surfaced in three different media outlets within a span of a few hours.
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.
Some links to read before the final weekend of the regular season...
- Ryne Sandberg tells Chris De Luca of the Chicago Sun-Times that his "ideal job" would be managing the Cubs.
- Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News says C.C. Sabathia and Mike Mussina are the only two Yankee pitchers of the decade to deliver big seasons right after signing big free agent contracts.
- Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune says there's still a lot of uncertainty surrounding Padres GM Kevin Towers.
- USA Today's Bob Nightengale says (via Twitter) that the Giants expect Randy Johnson to retire after the season.
- Nightengale says teams expect the Rays to deal B.J. Upton this winter.
- Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle says the Giants need Bengie Molina and Buster Posey next year.
- Justin Masterson tells John Tomase of the Boston Herald that his former pitching coach, John Farrell, would make a good manager.
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.
Another round of links for the afternoon...
- ESPN.com's Rob Neyer would like to see big market teams share more revenue with their small market rivals. Still, he says MLB has been competitive compared to football, basketball and hockey.
- Padres CEO Jeff Moorad was non-committal about GM Kevin Towers' future on XX 1090 in San Diego, according to MLB.com's Corey Brock (via Twitter). Moorad said Towers is the GM now, and added that the Padres are evaluating all levels of the organization.
- Towers said in no uncertain terms that he wants to be in San Diego.
- Bengie Molina's agent tells the AP that his client wants to return to San Francisco (via ESPN). We heard in late August that Molina wants to sign a two-year deal. ESPN.com's Keith Law says the Giants should pass.
- Maury Brown of the Biz of Baseball notes that the Cubs have drawn three million fans for the sixth straight season. Along with the Cubs, only the Angels, Dodgers, Yankees and Cardinals have accomplished the feat.
- Randy Johnson tells the AP (via the East Valley Tribune) that he's in no rush to decide on his future.
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports hands out his postseason awards and issues a number of apologies to people around the game.