Let The Big Unit Bidding Begin!

It's time for Round 2, and this time the Randy Johnson sweepstakes will be in full force, with the winner getting the nastiest left-hander on the planet.

Whoever comes away with Johnson this time not only has an 18- to 20-game winner, but a man who will fill the seats every time he pitches.

Why else do you think the Houston Astros are pleading with him to stay? Why else do you think the Texas Rangers are imploring him to follow in the footsteps of the great Nolan Ryan? Why else are the Indians, Angels, Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Yankees telling him to hold on until they have a chance to make their sales pitches?

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  • Johnson will become the next player to break the $11 million barrier, or maybe even $12 million, and this time he will be the one holding all the cards.

    "We want to give Houston a chance, because we're very grateful for what they did for Randy this year," co-agent Alan Nero said. "But at the same time, we'll entertain offers from other teams. Randy has a short list of about six teams that meet his criteria."

    Johnson would love to stay close to his new home in the Phoenix area and prefers pitching in the American League, but he'll have more suitors than Madonna.

    "I definitely will call," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told the New York Times. "I'd like to have the opportunity to bring him over here. We'll be pursuin him -- to what level of years and dollars remains to be seen."

    Look for Johnson to receive a four-year deal for about $45 million to $50 million.

    Considering he went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 84 innings for the Astros, it just might be a steal.

    NL West notes

    The Yankees have long accused the Diamondbacks of tampering with center fielder Bernie Williams, so it certainly is no surprise to them Williams plans to visit the Diamondbacks next week.

    "We are going to talk to them and find out what their thinking is and go from there," Diamondbacks general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said. "I think if we get the opportunity, as I think we will, to sit down and talk to him about Phoenix, about our team and how we're putting it together and talk about the good things we hope to accomplish, it's a good thing.

    "I think we have a pretty good story to tell. You at least want to have the conversation."

  • Former Rockies manager Don Baylor showed his class and pride by rejecting the Rockies' offer to join their front office. Simply, Baylor could not look in the mirror each day and take the money from an organization that fired him as a manager.

    He still is bitter over his firing, believing he was unfairly used as the scapegoat for the Rockies' woes. Baylor has job offers from the Braves, Athletics, Tigers and Indians.

    "It took (a month) to make the decision because I knew I had to get over the emotional part of it," Baylor said, "having been with the organization since the start and feeling I helped put a foundation together. Now, I've made the decision and I'm comfortable. I still want to be in uniform; that's the big thing. You have to follow your gut feeling and let that be part of the decision."

  • The worst-kept secret in baseball was former Dodgers president Peter O'Malley's resignation, effective Dec. 31. It made no sense for him to stay aboard for an extra year after selling the team, only to see it dismantled. He had absolutely no role with the Dodgers once he sold out to Fox and got his $311 million.
  • The Dodgers could have an angry Gary Sheffield on their hands if they indeed trade third baseman Bobby Bonilla and catcher Charles Johnson.

    "The guys I came here with (from Florida) are the guys I'm going to stay here with," Sheffield said. "I wouldn't have wanted to come unless Bobby and the other guys were coming, too. They (the Dodgers) knew that when we met to talk. They knew how I felt about that, and nothing has changed."

  • Say a few prayers for talented Rockies scout Bruce Andrew, who suffered a stroke n both eyes, leaving him legally blind.

    "I'm in good health," Andrew said, "I just can't see anything. I can't drive and I can't read. That's not a good combination to be a scout. It's an inconvenience, but that's life. There are a lot of other people a lot worse off than I am."

  • This isn't the first challenge Andrew has faced in recent years. He is raising his 13-year-old son by himself. His wife died four years ago of an aneurysm; and two years later, his mother, who was helping take care of his son, died. Andrew will be honored during the annual Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., and receive one of the three scouts of the year awards.
  • The Rockies made a brilliant move by hiring advance scout John Van Ornum, who was dismissed recently by the Dodgers. He's one of the best in the business.
  • Former Dodgers manager Glenn Hoffman is raising eyebrows among his peers by accepting a job as bullpen coach instead of resigning with dignity from the organization. Bullpen coach? Please.
  • The Dodgers made a huge mistake by not bringing back Joey Amalfitano as their bench coach.
  • The Padres are expected to come in with a four-year, $44 million deal for free-agent pitcher Kevin Brown, but won't meet with agent Scott Boras until after the Nov. 3 stadium election. Brown wants to know just how competitive the Padres will be in the future.

    "I think that's something they'll strongly look at," General Manager Kevin Towers said. "I think he's looking at this next contract being his last one, and one of the things weighing heavily on his mind will be if he has the opportunity to get back to the World Series. He'll want to know how competitive we'll be for the next four to five years. Right after the election, I imagine we'll go full-bore."

  • Phil Favia, one of the unsung heroes in the Montreal Expos organization, left the Expos and joined the Dodgers to become their advance scout.
  • The Padres believe pitching coach Dave Stewart definitely is gone. He already has interviewed with Oakland and Florida, and Toronto and Baltimore are expected to be next on his list to become an assistant general manager.

    "You can't stand in the guy's way if he wants to get in the front office," Towers said. "Sure, hell yes, I'd love to have him back. But I can't force him to be the pitching coach if he doesn't want to. I consider him a friend. I'm going to do whatever I can to help create an opportunity for him to go somewhere else. He's got a lot of value, and I'll strongly endorse him."

  • The Giants already have allotted $33.5 million for 12 players in 1999, leaving them just $7 million for the remaining 13 players. They would like to re-sign outfielder Ellis Burks and pick up another starter.

    NL Central

  • The Cubs are showing great interest in free-agent reliever Mike Timlin and could make him their closer. Timlin, who pitched for the Mariners, also is being courted by the Red Sox, Indians and Orioles.
  • Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, who will win the National League's Most Valuable Player award in a near-unanimous vote, is expected to reel in another $325,000. He'll get $250,000 for the MVP award, $50,00 for winning the Silver Slugger award and $25,000 for making the postseason All-Star team.

    Sosa led the Cubs in two-out RBI last season with 60. Jose Hernandez was second on the team with 31.

  • Reds owner Marge Schott has told business associates she will not sell the remainder of her shares to her partners, but to an outside party to spite her partners. Yet, the limited partners can still match any outside offer.

    The Reds will continue to be run by managing executive John Allen from the business side and General Manager Jim Bowden from the baseball side.

  • The Astros, realizing they have far too many hitters in the lineup who strike out, are trying to add a left-handed contact hitter to the mix, preferably an infielder such as switch-hitter Ken Caminiti. Their top priority, however is re-signing ace Johnson.

    "We're going to have a little flexibility," General Manager Gerry Hunsicker said of the payroll. "(Owner) Drayton (McLane) is committed to putting a quality team on the field, and the bar has been raised. If we're going to remain competitive, it's going to take a certain amount of talent. That doesn't mean we're going to leapfrog into the area with the Braves, Yankees, Orioles or other teams that spend that kind of money, but we are committed to remaining competitive."

  • The Brewers desperately are trying to trade Marquis Grissom to get rid of the remaining $20 million on his contract.
  • The Cardinals seriously are considering firing Dave Parker as their hitting coach.

    The Cardinals are preparing a four-year, $53 million offer for Brown.

    NL East

  • Strange winter for the Expos. This will be the first time in five years they won't have to dump off a high-salaried player in the off-season.

    The Expos would love to sign pitcher Dustin Hermanson to a long-term contract, but Hermanson is being patient.

    "Dustin wants to make sure that there's stability not only in the front office, but on the field," his agent Casey Close said. "It's one thing to sign your manager and general manager and everyone else. It's anther to put together a team that gives a pitcher a chance to pitch in the postseason."

  • The Marlins are shopping catcher Gregg Zaun and second baseman Luis Castillo.
  • The Mets are showing great interest in free-agent outfielder Brian Jordan.

    "Brian Jordan wants to win and that comes above all else," agent Jim Turner said. "Teams that he would have the most interest in going to have to be competitive and the Mets certainly are, so the answer is yes, he would like to play there."

    Who can blame Mets catcher Todd Hundley for wanting to simply move across town, now Mike Piazza is signed, and catch for the Yankees.

    "I would love to get over there and wear the pinstripes," Hundley said. "They have won two World Championships in three years and there is that short right-field porch. But most importantly, it's the history of the place. I want to squat where Thurman Munson squatted. I went to the World Series games and I saw the pride that the organization has and the tradition that is alive over there.

    "You play this game for only one thing and that's the ring. All the money doesn't mean anything if you don't leave the game with a World Series ring. That's what I want, a World Series ring, and I would love it with the Yankees. I don't want to leave New York. The toughest part of leaving New York would be leaving the fans. I understand it's a business, but the relationship I have with the fans, that would hurt if I had to leave."

  • The Phillies are taking a $3 million gamble they can trade reliever Mark Leiter by exercising his option and not simply letting him walk. Leiter is a gutsy guy, but he also is 35 years old and led the big leagues with 17 defeats in 1997 and 12 blown saves in 1998.

    "I've had some conversations with clubs regarding an interest in Leiter," General Manager Ed Wade said. "Basically, we ran out of time. So I thought it would be prudent on our part to continue to explore those options."

    AL West

  • The Rangers, bolstered by the resources of wealthy owner Tom Hicks, will pursue free-agent ace Johnson and free-agent center fielder Williams, along with re-signing shortstop Royce Clayton.

    "Free agency is part of the process of making our ballclub better," General Manager Doug Melvin said. "Some clubs can't get involved. We are a club that can get involved. (Hicks) knows this is an important process for our club."

    The Rangrs' primary goal is to improve the starting pitching, which had the second-highest ERA in the American League this season at 5.40. If the Rangers can't lure Johnson, they will turn to Brown and Todd Stottlemyre.

    "We're looking at pitching," Melvin said. "We'll prioritize the list of pitchers and go from there. But a lot of times what you're looking for can change. We'll try to be aggressive as we can be, but you have to make sure that you don't do anything out of line."

  • Well, so much for that idea of Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez relaxing at home and blowing off winter ball. The Rangers failed to notify the Commissioner's office of players who had 520 at-bats during the regular season, and the oversight could mean that Rodriguez can still play winter ball.

    "Sure we should have sent it in," Melvin said, "but he assured me that he wouldn't play."

    Sure, sure. You expect Rodriguez to sit back when the Caribbean World Series will be played in his hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

    "We'll see what I do," Rodriguez said.

    AL Central

  • Man, a guy tries to get a promotion and look what happens. Dan O'Dowd, the Indians' respected assistant general manager, was stripped of his title and had his salary reduced from $300,000 to $220,000 simply for interviewing with the Orioles to become their general manager. The new assistant general manager is Mark Shapiro.
  • Albert Belle still is expected to return to the White Sox, but since he has free-look free agency for 30 days, why not explore the market?

    "Albert had a great year and an incredible second half," White Sox general manager Ron Schueler said. "But you have to ask yourself the question: 'How much money is enough?' I have a lot of other players I want to do some things with."

  • The Yankees say they have some interest in Belle if center fielder Williams leaves, and Belle said he's willing to listen to anyone but Cleveland.

    "That bridge has been burned," Belle said of his former team, "and I'm not in the construction business.

    "If I was to go to the Yankees, obviously, they're going to win. Winning is my first priority and I definitely want to be in a situation where we win more ballgames than we lose. I haven't been to the playoffs for two years. Hopefully, I can stay with the White Sox and we'll win next season. I've given the Sox first priority and we'll explore every avenue to stay here. But if I have to go with another team, that's what I'll have to do."

  • The Cubs made a huge mistake by not keeping pitching coach Phil Regan, who's one of the best in the business.
  • The Indians keep jacking up ticket prices and the fans keep coming. This time, they'll rise their ticket prices by 10- percent in five of the eight ticket categories. They drew a franchise-record 3,467,299 fans last season and have a sellout streak of 292 consecutive games.
  • Look for Royals manager Tony Muser to add old friend Don Rowe to his staff to replace fired pitching coach Bruce Kison.
  • The Royals, who are expected to slash their payroll from $35 million to $22 million, might end up having three young prospects in their starting lineup: 21-year-old outfielder Carlos Beltran, 24-year-old outfielder/DH Jeremy Giambi and 22-year-old second baseman Carlos Febles.

    "It's not like we'll be gutting the team," General Manager Herk Robinson said. "We're not going to the extremes. It won't be an $8 million payroll like in Pittsburgh or Montreal."

  • You know the Twins are going through tough times when they release catcher Terry Steinbach simply because he was going to make $1.8 million in 1999. That's actually a steal in this day and age.

    Twins general manager Terry Ryan, one of the good guys in the game, still is awaiting his fate from owner Carl Pohlad.

    "I guess you always wonder whether they want you back or not," Ryan said. "I'm not different. There's not much security in any of these jobs. There's so much movement."

    AL East

  • Talented Frank Wren, the new general manager of the Orioles, has the authority to restructure the front office. Look for Wren to replace scouting director Gary Nickels and possibly reassign director of player development Syd Thrift.

    "There is a lot of work to be done," Wren said, "and we're going to get started right away. I know we are in the free-agent filing period, but there is no real urgency to sign players today or even next week. What I need to do from my standpoint is to visit with Ray Miller and other key people in the organization and assess where they think we are and where they think these people will fit and go from there."

    The Marlins are sorely going to miss Wren.

  • The Orioles have already had eight players file for free agency, and pitcher Juan Guzman might exercise his right to demand a trade if the Orioles do not re-negotiate his contract.

    First baseman Rafael Palmeiro is looking for a five-year contract worth about $50 million. The Orioles' last formal offer was a three-year, $21 million deal

    The Orioles say they will look strongly at acquiring free-agent pitcher Brown, free-agent outfielder Jordan and catcher Hundley.

  • With Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn expected to collect his 3,000th hit before the All-Star break next season, it means every player in the last 80 years to get 3,000 hits has plyed in Yankee Stadium at some point in his career. In fact, of the 21 players with 3,000 hits, the only ones who didn't play in Yankee Stadium were Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie and Cap Anson, who concluded their careers before Yankee Stadium was even built.
  • Aging Blue Jays pitcher Dave Stieb filed for free agency, but said he'd still like to return to Toronto.

    "Anywhere else, he'd want guarantees," Bob LaMonte, Stieb's agent, said. "But, with Toronto, he knows the situation and he could live with being a situational guy and feels he can still help. When it was all over (this past season), he realized he'd had a great time, that he'd had an opportunity to step back and see what it was all about. His biggest goal, really, is to play until the year 2000. He wants to be a four-decade player."

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