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Astros Pass on Johnson

Baseball: Houston not willing to go for four-year deal for left-hander.

November 25, 1998| From Associated Press

The Houston Astros gave up their efforts to re-sign Randy Johnson after the Texas Rangers offered the pitcher a guaranteed four-year contract.

"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," Astro General Manager Gerry Hunsicker said Tuesday.

The Angels, Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks remain in contention to sign the Big Unit, and one of the pitcher's agents, Barry Meister, said a fifth team--which he wouldn't identify--called him with a bid Tuesday.

Meister said Johnson hoped to make a decision this week.

"With respect to Houston, I want to make clear Randy is trying to sign with a club where's he's going to finish his career, and we honestly believe he'll play four more years. Houston wasn't willing to make that commitment."

Texas had Nolan Ryan give Johnson a tour of The Ballpark in Arlington on Monday. The Rangers didn't hear from Johnson's side on Tuesday, but the Diamondbacks did.

"I spoke with his agents last night and again today. The ball is in his court now to make the final decision," said Diamondback owner Jerry Colangelo.

San Diego could be the mystery team. The Padres, unsure they'll be able to re-sign Kevin Brown, have been rumored to be milling an offer for Johnson.

Houston, which acquired Johnson from Seattle on July 31, offered the left-hander a $33-million, three-year deal. In the end, Johnson is expected to get a contract averaging $12 million to $13 million per season.

Hunsicker and Astro owner Drayton McLane Jr. said they debated whether to offer a four-year deal.

"You just take such a big risk," McLane said. "If for some reason Randy were not able to pitch at a high level, it just paralyzes the team because you have so much money wrapped up in someone not producing at an extremely high level."

McLane speaks from experience. The Astros became saddled with the long-term contracts of pitchers Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell after signing the Houston-rooted players to expensive deals in 1993.

"They pitched OK, but at those salary levels they need to pitch terrific. You've got to pitch phenomenally," McLane said.

After going 9-10 with a 4.33 earned-run average for Seattle, Johnson was 10-1 with a 1.26 ERA in 11 starts for Houston, striking out 116 and walking 26 in 84 1/3 innings.

The Astros lost both of Johnson's starts during a first-round playoff loss to San Diego, but Hunsicker said he has no regrets about the deal.

"When we made this trade, we went into it with our eyes wide open and didn't think about 1999," he said. "I think we got our money's worth. We took a gamble worth taking."

The Astros have no immediate plans to pursue another big-time free agent, Hunsicker said. The team last week signed third baseman Ken Caminiti to a $9.5-million, two-year contract.

*

The New York Yankees, on the verge of putting Bernie Williams in their past, have offered Albert Belle a four-year contract averaging at least $12 million per season, several sources told the Associated Press.

Belle, the temperamental but extremely productive outfielder, appears to want to leave the Chicago White Sox. Other than the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox seem to be his only other option.

Yankee officials remained at their Tampa, Fla., offices on Tuesday and Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, said there was "nothing new to report" on the negotiations.

The sources, all speaking on the condition they not be identified, said Yankee Manager Joe Torre told owner George Steinbrenner he would have no problem melding Belle into his tranquil clubhouse.

Torre played golf with Belle last week in Tucson.

While one source said an agreement could be reached before Thanksgiving, other sources said Belle probably wouldn't make a decision until next week.

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