Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said Barry Meister, one of the left-hander's agents, told the team Tuesday they would need a four-year offer for any chance at retaining Johnson. Texas is said to have offered nearly $50 million during Johnson's visit to The Ballpark on Monday.
"It's going to clearly take a fourth year to remain in this competition, and we were not prepared to do so at this time," Hunsicker said.
After Monday's visit with the Rangers, including time with mentor-turned-tour guide Nolan Ryan, Johnson declined comment.
Houston' first and only offer was for three years and $33 million. The Rangers already had offered $39 million over three years before increasing teir offer Monday.
"I think we're more than in the middle of this," Rangers general manager Doug Melvin said. "I think we're down to one of the finalists."
Rangers owner Tom Hicks spent about an hour Monday personally trying to woo Johnson.
"I wanted to know if he is the type of player who is as committed to going to the next level as we are," Hicks said. "He is. We made our best offer."
Johnson asked for a trade following the 1997 season after Seattle refused to extend his contract. He then went 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 23 starts with the Mariners.
Seattle traded him to Houston on July 31 and he became the National League's most dominating pitcher during the final two months of the season. He was 10-1 with a 1.26 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 116 and walking 26 in 84 1/3 innings.
Houston lost both of Johnson's starts during a first-round playoff loss to San Diego.
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