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?
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 notesThe 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."
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 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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
Sosa led the Cubs in two-out RBI last season with 60. Jose Hernandez was second on the team with 31.
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.
"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 Cardinals are preparing a four-year, $53 million offer for Brown.
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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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.
"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."
"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."
"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."
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."
"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.
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.
"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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