Anger Management Randy Johnson is fed up with losing in Arizona, but can the Diamondbacks give him what he wants: a trade to a contender?

August 01, 2004

It was much larger than your ordinary dentist's waiting room,
though in other respects typical of one. The air inside the
windowless space was cool and noticeably undisturbed by
conversation. Magazines rested in soldier-straight piles atop
black laminated coffee tables in front of black leather sofas.
Men sat with chins on their chests; one or two shuffled
noiselessly across the carpet to the bathroom. A digital clock
ticked the seconds away. A foreboding sense of pain--the only
question was, how bad would it get?--hung palpably in the room. ¶
Welcome to the Arizona Diamondbacks' clubhouse at Bank One
Ballpark. Eliciting hope here last week was like pulling teeth. ¶
No one surveyed the gloom from a better vantage point than Randy
Johnson, the team's 6'10" lefthanded ace. Johnson turns 41 in
September, has one more season remaining on what may be his final
contract and every 10 days or so endures an injection into his
right knee of a space-age lubricant gel that fills the hollow
once occupied by cartilage. The digital clock ticks most cruelly
for him. ¶ Around him slumped a collection of has-beens,
aren't-yets and maybe-never-will-bes that constitute what perhaps
is the National League's worst club since the 1965 New York Mets,
who lost 112 games. A 4-30 streak at week's end--capped by
Sunday's 3-2 loss in which Johnson pitched eight shutout innings
and struck out a season-high 14 but watched the bullpen blow a
1-0 lead--dropped the Diamondbacks below the vagabond Montreal
Expos for baseball's worst record (31-69) and put
them on track to lose 112 times. Next season? Beware of snake
oil. No team in baseball history has made the playoffs the year
after losing more than 97 games.

With as few as two Octobers left in his Hall of Fame-worthy
career, Johnson has had enough of this waiting room. Soured by
the losing, certain that a rebuilding team does not need a
41-year-old pitcher and chagrined by scarce communication from
ownership, Johnson is eager to be traded to a playoff-ready
club--that is, if the Diamondbacks can extract a package they
like from a team able to absorb the $22 million left on his
contract ($6 million for the remainder of this season and $16
million for 2005).

"This team is young," Johnson told SI last week. "It's not built
to win right now. Should I stick around the rest of the year and
all of next year going through this again? I may not pitch after
next year. There are some good young players here, but they're
still learning how to win. It takes time. I'll be done playing
when a lot of them know what it takes to win.

"I've got more [value] for a winning team. Do I want to leave?
No. I've enjoyed it here. But the reason I've enjoyed it is we've
been winning. This team was put together to win in a four-or
five-year window, and that window is closed. This team is going
through a major transformation. If I'm guilty of anything, it's
wanting to win. The only thing I want is to win."

In a trade market short on impact players, Johnson is the only
eureka! piece that could swing the balance of power in a division
or wild-card race and, more so, in a postseason series. At week's
end he was 10-8, led the majors in strikeouts (174) and ranked
third in opponents' batting average (.191) and fourth in ERA
(2.68). On May 18 he became the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect
game.

"There's no one 25 years old, no one 35 years old, no one at any
age who can do more than me," he said. "My body feels good."
Asked if he was distracted by the torrent of trade rumors, he
replied, "Obviously it doesn't affect me when I'm pitching."

The Anaheim Angels, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are the
teams that can most likely afford to trade for Johnson. A deal
would almost certainly have to occur before Saturday's 4 p.m. EDT
trade deadline; to be dealt thereafter, players must pass through
waivers, unclaimed by 28 teams, a virtual impossibility for a
player of Johnson's value.

New York and Boston are short on the quality, major-league-ready
prospects Arizona seeks and thus may have to involve a third club
to acquire Johnson. Anaheim is loaded with such rising stars,
including third baseman Dallas McPherson, catcher Jeff Mathis and
first baseman Casey Kotchman, but with the seventh-best record in
the AL through Sunday the Angels are not the October lock that
Johnson seeks.

Johnson cannot be traded without his approval. He said that he
has not specified to Arizona any team to which he would approve a
deal and that he's not seeking a contract extension. He expressed
to management only a desire to play for "an actual playoff club"
and "not one that sees me as the missing piece that can get them
in."

While the Yankees best fit Johnson's wishes, New York has found
trade talks with the Diamondbacks frustrating. "We're still
trying to find out who they like, who they don't like and what
they're looking for," one Yankees executive said last week.

Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. is not proceeding as if
he must trade Johnson. "We don't have to move any contracts for
financial reasons," he said last week. "It's fair to say Randy's
salary for next year is already factored into [the payroll]."

But Arizona may need to move Johnson as part of a rebuilding
phase and in order to avoid having an unhappy, alienated star on
its hands. Rightfielder Danny Bautista, centerfielder Steve
Finley and injured first baseman Richie Sexson are free agents at
season's end and must be similarly evaluated.

Johnson's relationship with the front office has already cooled.
Owner Jerry Colangelo wooed the Big Unit to Arizona after a
97-loss season in 1998, the D-Backs' inaugural year. They won the
NL West in three of the next four years and the World Series in
2001. Johnson won the Cy Young Award all four seasons, going
81-27.

He said he is surprised that no club official has talked to him
in recent weeks about his importance to the franchise or how it
plans to contend next season if he remains. Colangelo, on
vacation last week in Europe, was scheduled to return on Tuesday.

"I've seen [Colangelo] once in the last 2 1/2 months, and that
was when he came down to congratulate me after I got my 4,000th
strikeout [on June 29]," Johnson says. "We've had no
communication. The same people who came over to my house and
recruited me to be a Diamondback, I haven't heard from them.
There are other owners, some I know by name. No one has said,
'This is the direction we're going in.'"

Garagiola and Johnson had a pregame chat in the dugout of Dodger
Stadium before the All-Star break. "He didn't have a lot of
answers at the time," Johnson said. "[Garagiola] asked me, 'Would
[you want to stay] if we re-signed Richie Sexson?' There are no
guarantees. I'm sure Richie is going to have a lot of choices.
There's no guarantee that Steve Finley will be back. No guarantee
what shape [leftfielder] Luis Gonzalez will be in after [ligament
replacement] surgery [on his right elbow, scheduled for Aug. 2].
What will the bullpen look like? What will the rest of the
starting pitching look like?

"I can't turn things around by myself. There's no better example
of that than this year. We're not drawing any more fans or
winning because I'm here. There's no doubt that my leaving here
can help the franchise rebuild, because they can get great young
players and free up money to sign others. I can only pitch every
five days."

Said Gonzalez, "It's not something we talk about with him. I know
he's frustrated. We're all frustrated. We're trying our best to
score some runs for him. He still goes out there and gives it
everything he's got. That's why he's the best in the game."

Johnson lives in a Phoenix suburb with his wife, Lisa, and their
four children. He admitted that a trade to the East Coast, which
would also mean spending spring training in Florida rather than
in Arizona, might prompt him to retire after next season because
of the additional time away from home.

The clock ticks. The trade deadline draws near. The Diamondbacks
keep losing. The room stays cold and quiet. On July 20, for
instance, Johnson threw seven quality innings but lost 3-1 to the
San Francisco Giants. It was the sixth time in his eight defeats
that Arizona had scored two or fewer runs. The dreariness. The
familiar, worn-out responses to the media ... it was like the
nightly staging of a bad play. At least Johnson's eldest child,
eight-year-old Tanner, met him later in the clubhouse, full of
joy, with better news.

"I'm getting a haircut tomorrow," Tanner said. "Guess what I'm
getting."

"A Mohawk?" Johnson replied.

"Yep. Mom said it's O.K."

Later, upon leaving the clubhouse, Johnson said, "Lisa's been
great. And the kids don't even know or ask about [a trade]. They
just ask if we're worse than the Expos."

He pushed a door open and stepped into the outside world, the
chill replaced by the brutal Arizona heat, which seemed to have
an anger about it, even at 10 o'clock at night. "Honestly, I have
no idea what's going to happen," he said.

Tomorrow. At least he had the promise of tomorrow.

"Tomorrow," he said, "I have a dentist's appointment at 8:30 in
the morning."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROY DABNER/AP UNIT COST The lowly Diamondbacks can't justify paying Johnson $22 million over the next season and a half. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO COLOR PHOTO: ROB TRINGALI/SPORTSCHROME COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO COLOR PHOTO: DOUG BENC/GETTY IMAGES COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER TWO COLOR PHOTOS: CHUCK SOLOMON (2) COLOR PHOTO: TONY DEJAK/AP COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH

SHOP 'N' SWAP
With the nonwaiver trade deadline this Saturday, these are the
top players in play and the teams in the hunt (statistics through
Sunday).

PLAYER, POSITION, CURRENT TEAM

CARLOS BELTRAN, OF, ASTROS
Owner Drayton McLane might change his mind and deal the All-Star
CF if Houston's slide continues.

--Texas Rangers
--Boston Red Sox
--Los Angeles Dodgers
--Philadelphia Phillies

KRIS BENSON, SP, PIRATES
The career underachiever and free-agent-to-be is hot at the right
time (3-0, 2.08 ERA in July).

--Anaheim Angels
--Texas Rangers
--Boston Red Sox
--Minnesota Twins
--New York Mets

ORLANDO CABRERA, SS, EXPOS
Struggling in the last year of his contract (.318 SLG), he may
not be much of an upgrade over Alex
Gonzalez.

--Chicago cubs

STEVE FINLEY, OF, DIAMONDBACKS
Streaky hitter (and San Diego-area resident) followed .333 June
with .190 July; still ninth in NL with 23
HRs.

--Texas Rangers
--Florida Marlins
--San Diego Padres
--Philadelphia Phillies

EDDIE GUARDADO, RP, MARINERS
Seattle's not eager to move a lefty closer who's holding hitters
to a .174 average, but he's making $4
million.

--Oakland Athletics
--Texas Rangers

JOSE MESA, RP, PIRATES
Well-traveled veteran has converted 29 of 30 save chances, but
he's no longer a strikeout pitcher.

--San Francisco Giants
--New York Mets

RAMON ORTIZ, SP, ANGELS
Righty doesn't have huge trade value but needs a change of
scenery after hitting a dead end with
Anaheim.

--Minnesota Twins
--New York Mets

UGUETH URBINA, RP, TIGERS
Plagued by control problems (27 walks in 39 1/3 innings), but 47
K's show that he still has his stuff.

--Oakland Athletics
--Texas Rangers
--San Francisco Giants
--New York Mets

LARRY WALKER, OF, ROCKIES
He remains a force (.495 OBP in 27 games); Colorado would eat
some of the $18.5 million left on his deal.

--Texas Rangers
--Boston Red Sox
--Los Angeles Dodgers
--Florida Marlins

"I've seen [owner Jerry Colangelo] once in the last 2 1/2 months.
We've had no communication. No one has said, 'This is the
direction we're going in.'"

"I can't turn things around by myself. There's no better example
of that than this year. We're not drawing any more fans or
winning because I'm here."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)