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D’backs Sign Randy Johnson

November 30, 1998 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) _ The Arizona Diamondbacks, in the spectacular final act of their ambitious offseason pursuit of free agents, agreed Monday to a $52.4 million, four-year contract with Randy Johnson.

With an average salary of $13.1 million per season, Johnson becomes the game’s highest-paid pitcher and the second-highest paid player behind Mo Vaughn, who agreed last week to an $80 million, six-year contract with Anaheim that averages $13.33 million.

The addition of one of the game’s most feared pitchers, coupled with last week’s signings of Todd Stottlemyre and Armando Reynoso, gives the second-year expansion club one of the game’s most formidable rotations.

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``I’m not going to call us a contender, but what I’m hearing from people in baseball is that our starting rotation could be one of the top two or three in baseball,″ Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo said.

Johnson, who lives in nearby Paradise Valley, chose the Diamondbacks over the Anaheim Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers because he wants to play close to home and he thinks Arizona is making moves to quickly become a contender.

``We tried to weigh all the factors _ how competitive the team would be in the future, where his family would be comfortable,″ said Johnson’s agent Barry Meister. ``Money was a non-factor because everything was pretty comparable. He made the decision late, late, late last night, slept on it, still felt that way in the morning, and we called the other clubs.″

Johnson, 35, will be pushing 40 when the contract expires, but the Diamondbacks had to agree to four years to land the Big Unit.

``The marketplace dictates what you need to do, and the fact is that was what the market was for Randy,″ Colangelo said. ``To play the game, you have to accept the risk. And this is not a blind risk. He is that dominant to where you would be prepared to take that risk with him more than with someone else.″

The Diamondbacks finished 65-97 last season, the third-worst record in baseball.

``I didn’t like losing as much as we did, and the thought of waiting another three or four years to be able to compete was not very appealing to any of us,″ Colangelo said.

He decided the quickest way to contention was through pitching, and from the start, Johnson was his top priority.

All the other signings helped persuade the pitcher that Arizona would not remain a big loser. That belief, and the fact that the ballpark is a 20-minute drive from home, cinched the deal.

``No. 1, Randy values his family,″ Meister said, ``and No. 2, we believe Jerry Colangelo has an overwhelming commitment to get to the World Series. Based on what he’s done so far, we believe he’s going to accomplish that goal and Randy’s going to be a part of it.″

Johnson didn’t attend the news conference to announce the signing. He is to be introduced as a Diamondback on Wednesday.

Johnson gets a $5 million signing bonus, $7.35 million next year and $12.35 million in each of the following three seasons. Arizona has a $12 million option for 2003 with a $3 million buyout. The option would increase top $15 million if he wins the 2002 Cy Young Award and to $13.5 million if he’s second through fifth.

As was the case with Stottlemyre’s $32 million, four-year contract, about half of Johnson’s pay will be deferred _ $25.05 million over the next four years at 6 percent interest.

The contract includes bonus clauses that would pay Johnson another $250,000 for the first Cy Young Award he wins, $500,000 for the second, $750,000 for the third and $1 million for the fourth.

Johnson was 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 84 1-3 innings this year for the Houston Astros, who acquired him from Seattle on July 31. Unhappy with the Mariners after they refused to give him a contract extension after the 1997 season, Johnson had asked for a trade.

When Seattle refused, he was grumpy all through spring training and the first half of the season, going 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA before Seattle dealt him just minutes before the trade deadline.

Houston had hoped to re-sign him but dropped out of the bidding Tuesday after becoming convinced it would take a four-year contract to keep Johnson.

In all, he struck out 329 this season, leading the major leagues.

Johnson has a 143-79 career record, striking out 2,329 in 1,978 1-3 innings.

The Diamondbacks spent nearly $97.4 million on free agents since the end of the season, almost all of it on pitchers.

As of now, Arizona has a prospective five-man rotation of Johnson, Stottlemyre, Andy Benes and either Omar Daal or Brian Anderson.

Either Anderson or Daal likely will be traded for an experienced outfielder.

``It’s amazing,″ Benes said. ``I’ve never been on a team where they’ve been able to just go out there and add people like they have. It’s thrilling. You want to pitch on a staff like that. It makes me want to go out and work out right now.″

Manager Buck Showalter said his no-facial hair, no-long hair rule will not apply to Johnson.

``We told Randy right from the get go we like him just the way he is,″ Showalter said. ``That rule will be grandfathered for him. If someone comes to me and says they want to do that, I’ll say `You match what he does on the mound and we’ll talk about it.‴

Colangelo said the Diamondbacks likely are through with their free agent signings. He said he expects center fielder Steve Finley, who interviewed with the Diamondbacks, to re-sign with San Diego.