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Dodgers, Angels May Need Bigger Push to Land Johnson

Baseball: Free-agent pitcher has strong offers from Arizona, Texas.


With the finish line of the Randy Johnson derby in sight, the Angels and Dodgers have been given one final weekend to bring their offers for the free-agent pitcher more into line with proposals from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers.

Johnson, the 6-foot-10 left-hander, is expected to choose among the four finalists by Monday, and Alan Nero, one of the agents for the former Seattle Mariner and Houston Astro ace, said Johnson "is not going to base his decision only on dollars."

But a source familiar with negotiations said Friday that the Angels and Dodgers may have to increase their offers to compensate for the financial advantages Johnson could enjoy in Texas, which has no state income tax, and Arizona, where state taxes are lower and Johnson already owns a home.

The Angels have pushed their four-year offer to Johnson to the $50-million range, and the Dodgers have made a similar four-year offer. The Ranger and Diamondback offers are believed to be in the four-year, $51-million range.

Because California's state income tax is among the highest in the nation, and because the cost of living in the Southland is considerably higher than in Phoenix and Dallas, the net value of Johnson's offers in Arizona and Texas could be $3 million to $6 million more than those in Anaheim and Los Angeles.

Both Nero and Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi declined to discuss details of the negotiations, but Nero did confirm that Johnson was waiting for "final, final offers" from the Angels and Dodgers.

The Angels made first baseman Mo Vaughn the highest-paid player in the game Wednesday, signing him to a six-year, $80-million contract, but they are in dire need of a dominant pitcher to boost a rotation that includes aging left-hander Chuck Finley and oft-injured right-hander Ken Hill.

The Dodger payroll is already pushing $60 million, but the Dodgers need an ace to replace right-hander Ramon Martinez, who missed half of the 1998 season because of rotator-cuff surgery and is uncertain for 1999.

The Diamondbacks have the home-field advantage because Bank One Ballpark is less than half an hour from Johnson's home in the Phoenix area. The Angels could hold the edge over the Dodgers and Rangers, however, because their spring training complex is in Phoenix.

"Randy is struggling tremendously with the decision," Nero said. "It's a wonderful position to be in because they're all good situations, but instead of basking in this opportunity, he's very torn apart. No matter how you turn this thing, each team has tremendous advantages."

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