The New York Yankees, of course, have the most financial wherewithal to take on the steep contract. The Boston Red Sox have the most incentive -- thwarting the Yankees. The Chicago Cubs have the biggest need, now that Mark Prior is hurt again.

Can any of them land Randy Johnson?

Maybe. But the destination that makes the most sense for Johnson, the Arizona Diamondbacks' legendary ace, is the Anaheim Angels -- if, in fact, the Angels want to make it happen.

The Angels have the need, the incentive, the prospects to offer in return and a geographical edge to help convince Johnson, who has a house in nearby Newport Beach, Calif., to waive his no-trade clause.

Angels owner Arte Moreno, who drew the ire of his fellow owners by driving the free agent market skyward this winter, is claiming he does not want to give up top prospects -- such as third baseman Dallas McPherson, first baseman Casey Kotchman and/or catcher Jeff Mathis -- for Johnson, who turns 41 in less than two months and is owed about $22 million between now and the end of the 2005 season.

"One of my commitments is that we are going to build a championship team long term," Moreno told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't think the right way to do that is to give up part of our minor league system."

However, Moreno, who has a fondness for Johnson dating from his days as a Diamondbacks investor, may just be posturing.

He certainly realizes the Angels are likely just a Big Unit away from challenging the Yankees for supremacy in the American League -- now that they believe they finally have Bartolo Colon straightened out, and all their injured hitters except for Troy Glaus are back.

As for the Yankees' chances, Johnson, while in Houston this week at the All-Star Game, got a small taste of what it is like to deal with the New York Yankees. And it may have tasted just bad enough to cross the Yankees off his list.

About 90 minutes before first pitch Tuesday night, a New York area reporter tried to engage Johnson in some witty repartee about his future, advising Johnson to check out a certain newspaper's real estate section for ideas on where to buy in the New York area.

Johnson snapped, "You're making a mockery of it. This is my livelihood." He then instructed the reporter to walk away, and when the reporter did not, Johnson threatened him, saying, "Don't make me do something regretful."

One source close to Johnson predicted that something like that confrontation could push Johnson away from the Yankees.

McGriff May Come Up a Bit Short

When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays cut loose veteran first baseman Fred McGriff on Saturday, it likely spelled the end of his playing career and the opening of a period of debate as to his worthiness for the Hall of Fame.

McGriff stands just seven homers shy of 500. Only 20 players in history have hit more.

"I know my numbers can stack up to people who are in the Hall of Fame," McGriff told the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press last week. "I just laugh [at the critics]. They don't know how difficult it is."

But as far as home run totals go, 500 is the new 400.

Dale Murphy fell two homers shy of 400 when he retired in 1993, and it probably cost him the Hall of Fame. Now, with home runs devalued over the last decade, a player like McGriff who falls short of 500 -- and with no other compelling evidence to support him -- will probably not make it past the voters.

"Only time will tell if he's a Hall of Famer, by vote," said Devil Rays General Manager Chuck LaMar. "But Fred McGriff has had one of the great careers in major league history. I don't mean just the home runs. He's won championships and done a lot of great things. And he's always done it in a class manner."

In Seattle, It's Out With the Old

The Seattle Mariners, to their credit, recognized their team had gotten old, slow and brittle in a hurry (something scouts, however, have been saying for months) and have begun the painful process of ripping out the core of a team that won 116 games in 2001.

First baseman John Olerud was released this week, and in the coming weeks they might trade second baseman Bret Boone.

"I don't think you'll see more trades happen right away," Manager Bob Melvin told reporters with rare candor. "But there may be some other kinds of moves. We all recognize that cycles end and that the Mariners had come to the end of one." . . .

Florida Marlins phenom Miguel Cabrera, who turned 21 only three months ago, became the fourth-youngest player in history to have won a World Series title and played in an all-star game. Only Mickey Mantle, Claudell Washington and Hal Newhouser completed that double play at a younger age. . . .

And speaking of the Marlins, the Orioles had top scout Bruce Kison following them for the last week before the break. The Marlins are looking for bullpen help, but so far the teams have been unable to come up with a trade match.

An executive from another team said Orioles lefty B.J. Ryan is one of the most coveted players leaguewide. But the Orioles do not seem inclined to trade him, particularly with the way closer Jorge Julio continues to struggle. . . .

If new Manager Phil Garner fails to get the Houston Astros turned around in the next few weeks, many executives expect the team to deal center fielder Carlos Beltran, whose acquisition from Kansas City last month was trumpeted as the move that would push the Astros back to the top of their division. If the Astros do trade Beltran, a free agent-to-be, the San Diego Padres will be at the front of the line. . . .

Miguel Tejada's Orioles teammates gave him a rousing ovation when he entered the clubhouse in Tampa Bay on Thursday, a nod to Tejada's being crowned Home Run Derby champion three nights earlier.

However, Tejada went 0 for 6 with three strikeouts in his first two games after the long-ball title. He went 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles last night. . .

Royals Manager Tony Pena on his pathetic team, which set a big league record by using 48 players in the first half: "Right now, we don't do anything well. We don't get anyone on base. I'm trying to manage a game, and there are times when we go through a whole game, and I don't give any signs. I don't have a chance to give any signs."