The Arizona Diamondbacks plan to bring Bernie Williams to Phoenix for a visit and intend to talk with another high-profile free agent, Randy Johnson, who lives in nearby Paradise Valley.
The ambitious second-year team is willing to explore the possibility of signing a big-time free agent, despite the high price tag, general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said Wednesday.
The Diamondbacks plan to bring Williams to Arizona sometime after Nov. 6, the first date free agents can sign with teams other than their former club.
`The idea is here's a player who was the American League batting champion, a Gold Glove center fielder. I think it would be useful, if he wants to, to have a conversation with him," Garagiola said. "He is one of the most attractive players on the market."
To sign Williams, the Diamondbacks likely would have to spend more than the $91 million the New York Mets gave Mike Piazza in a seven-year deal. Arizona's entire payroll for their expansion season was about $32 million, most of it going to three players: Jay Bell, Matt Williams and Bernard Gilkey.
"We want to try and be creative and hopefully show people who come in here that there are reasons to be in Arizona, reasons that go beyonmoney," Garagiola said.
The Diamondbacks raised the ire of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner last year when Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo was seen at a Phoenix Suns game with Williams.
Steinbrenner suggested the big contracts given by the Diamondbacks to Bell and Andy Benes were part of an agreement that would deliver Williams to Arizona. Bell, Benes and Williams all are represented by agent Scott Boras.
"I would just say what I've said before," Garagiola said, "that anybody who thinks there is some vast conspiracy here involving Scott Boras' clients doesn't know Scott Boras."
Williams has another connection with Arizona. From 1992-1995, he played under Buck Showalter, now manager of the Diamondbacks.
Several teams might wind up offering Williams the same amount of money, Garagiola said.
"When the money is all about the same, then the players focus on other things: Do they want to at this point in their career change leagues? Where do they want to live? How good is the pitching coach? How good is the manager?" he said.
The Diamondbacks also plan to make trades, Garagiola said, with the New York Mets' catcher Todd Hundley among the possibilities.
"I think this winter is going to be an active trading winter," he said.
The Diamondbacks know that their biggest hurdle might be the impression they are a few years away from contending.
That might not bother Johnson, who could be lured by the chance to end his career playing a few minutes' drive from his home. But it could rule out Kevin Brown, who probably wants to play for a winner.
Colangelo said late last season that the Diamondbacks might not want to spend big money on free agents yet, waiting instead until they were on the brink of contention.
Of course, Colangelo also said that one reason the team raised ticket prices after their first season, a move widely criticized around Phoenix, is they wanted to be able to compete for high-priced talent.
Garagiola expects it will be some time before the big names sign with anyone. Then again, Colangelo, as owner of the Suns, is known for getting on the phone a few minutes past midnight on the first day he's allowed to sign a player and making an offer too good to refuse.
"I don't know," Garagiola said. "Maybe it will happen again."
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