-- A young fan sat in Bank One Ballpark on Thursday night holding a "Don't Trade Randy" sign. Outside the stadium, a vendor hawked game programs as the "last ones with Randy Johnson on the cover."
Baseball fans in the Valley of the Sun are preparing for life without the Big Unit, even if Johnson and Arizona Diamondbacks management suggest the dominant left-hander might not be going anywhere. With baseball's July 31 trading deadline approaching, the Johnson sweepstakes are heating up, with reportedly as many as seven contending teams interested in acquiring him.
Johnson, a 10-time all-star, can dictate what happens because he has a no-trade clause in his contract. He is due to make about $8 million for the rest of this season and $16 million next year.
"I said the door is open," said Johnson, who has become increasingly impatient with the media. He has been deluged with trade questions over the last three weeks. "A trade doesn't go through me. I don't have anything to do with it. If it happens, it happens through the front office."
If Arizona decides to trade Johnson, his acquisition could greatly alter any of baseball's division races. The New York Yankees -- who else? -- are considered the favorites to land Johnson; they're unsure if they've got enough pitching depth, especially after starter Mike Mussina went on the disabled list last week with an injured elbow.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner apparently has no qualms about adding Johnson's salary to his team's already staggering payroll of $183 million. Johnson beat the Yankees three times during the 2001 World Series. A baseball executive who requested anonymity told Newsday: "It's a small miracle if [Johnson] doesn't end up with the Yankees."
The Boston Red Sox, still flush with embarrassment from losing shortstop Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees last winter, want Johnson in Boston -- and especially don't want him in the Bronx. But neither Boston nor New York has an abundance of prospects to offer the Diamondbacks, so both teams might have to get a third team involved in a trade for Johnson.
The most publicized scenario has the Red Sox and Cubs involved in a three-way deal that would send Johnson to Boston, and disgruntled Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs. The Diamondbacks would receive prospects from the Cubs. But the Cubs may have renewed interest in trading for Johnson themselves because Mark Prior left his last start with pain in his right elbow after throwing only 36 pitches. The Cubs' pitching rotation has been plagued by injuries all season; Prior and Kerry Wood have both spent extended time on the disabled list. Cubs scout Ed Lynch was in attendance when Johnson pitched against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday.
The Anaheim Angels, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox also reportedly are interested in acquiring Johnson, a five-time Cy Young Award winner. But Barry Meister, Johnson's agent, told the Arizona Republic that the Diamondbacks haven't asked Johnson to waive his no-trade clause, and that his client hasn't asked Arizona for a trade, either.
"And he certainly has not presented a list of teams he would be willing to play for, nor has the team asked him to present a list," Meister told the newspaper.
Diamondbacks Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jerry Colangelo told the newspaper that the team wasn't pursuing a trade involving Johnson. That contradicts several published reports that said the Diamondbacks contacted several teams last week to gauge their interest in acquiring Johnson.
"There is nothing going on," Colangelo said. "If something happens, let me know, will you?"
Johnson, 40, is the public face of an increasingly faceless team that only three years ago won the World Series. Undone by injuries and questionable trades, the Diamondbacks are a makeshift collection of unproven players and declining veterans. Arizona has a major league leading 13 players on the disabled list, including seven who are the 60-day list. The Diamondbacks are dressing 14 players who have less than three years of big league experience, including five players who are in the everyday lineup.
The results: The Diamondbacks have lost 23 of their last 27 games, trail the Los Angeles Dodgers by 221/2 games in the National League West and have the majors' worst record at 31-62. Manager Bob Brenly was fired July 2, a day after only 22,631 fans watched Arizona beat the San Diego Padres, the smallest crowd in Diamondbacks history. With outfielders Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez and first baseman Richie Sexson eligible for free agency after this season, Arizona's future looks even worse.
"I wouldn't blame Randy at all for waiving his no-trade clause and going to a team that has a chance to win," said Diamondbacks catcher Robby Hammock, who caught Johnson's perfect game at Atlanta on May 18. "This team is obviously rebuilding and trying to develop young players. He's probably got one or two years left, and he's at a point where winning is the only thing that matters anymore. He's done everything else. He's a Hall of Famer. The only thing that matters to him now is getting back to the World Series."
Johnson pitched masterfully in his first start after the All-Star Game, allowing only four hits and striking out nine in seven scoreless innings against the Dodgers on Thursday night. He left after throwing 108 pitches, and then watched the Diamondbacks' bullpen blow the lead. Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green hit a grand slam off Randy Choate in the eighth inning, handing Arizona a 4-3 loss.
Asked if the losing was beginning to wear on him, Johnson said: "Only if you're a winner. If you're a loser I guess it doesn't matter."
Johnson, an intimidating, 6-foot-10 power pitcher, is aloof on his best days, and downright nasty on his worst. Before last week's All-Star Game in Houston, Johnson accused baseball writers of being erroneous and dishonest. He followed that up with a bizarre altercation with a writer from New York, who joked that his newspaper's real estate section could help Johnson find a new home. Johnson, with a clenched fist, told the reporter to walk away from his locker before "I do something regretful."
"Now you know what I'm like on the day I pitch," Johnson told the reporter. "Now you've seen my dark side."
After Johnson's last start, reporters asked him how he was handling all the trade speculation.
"Great. Thanks for asking," Johnson said.
On Friday, Johnson chastised a reporter in the clubhouse for quoting an anonymous source -- "who speaks often with Randy Johnson" -- as saying the pitcher only wants to be traded to the Yankees. Later, the Diamondbacks announced that they're closing the clubhouse to media during batting practice. Under Major League Baseball policies, the team is required to have the clubhouse open 31/2 hours before game time; teams are allowed to close the clubhouse during batting practice but must reopen it 45 minutes before the first pitch.
"People want to write what they need to write for their stories," Johnson said. "That's why I don't want to say anything."
This wouldn't be the first time Johnson was traded to a contending team late in the season. He was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Houston Astros before the nonwaiver trading deadline in 1998. He went 10-1 and helped the Astros make the playoffs. He has called it "the best two months of my career."
Johnson has one year left on his contract and hasn't said whether he'll pitch beyond the 2005 season. Despite pitching for a woeful team, his 2.84 ERA is eighth-best in the National League and he leads the majors with 154 strikeouts.
"I will play this year and a half out, and if I have any desire to play beyond next year, I'll leave that door open," Johnson said. "But I will not commit to saying, 'Yeah.' I feel great right now, but I still have a season and a half -- 300, 400 innings -- ahead of me. I pretty much take it one start at a time now. I don't go any farther down the season than one start."
Winning another World Series seems to be the only thing that matters to Johnson.
"No disrespect to the Cy Young [award], but I've had a few of those, and winning another World Series would be more important," Johnson said. "I had more fun playing in the World Series, and winning that would far outweigh any individual accomplish I could achieve."