Getting Randy Johnson

Drafted out of the University of Southern California in the 2nd Round of the 1985 draft by the Montreal Expos – four picks before the Astros selected Bert Hunter, who never made it to the Majors – Randy Johnson was traded to the Mariners with Gene Harris and Brian Holman for pitcher Mark Langston in May 1989. Less than ten years later, Johnson would be the subject of the most breathless trading deadline in Astros history. This is the story of how the trade market for Randy Johnson unfolded.

From 1990-1997, Johnson was 114-55 with a 3.24 ERA/1.23 WHIP and a 135 ERA+ with five All-Star appearances for Seattle. He struck out 10.7 batters per nine innings, and won 18+ games three times. In his Age 31 season, in 1995, Johnson went 18-2 with a 2.48 ERA, 294 strikeouts, 193 ERA+, 1.05 WHIP, 6.7 Hits/9inn, 0.5 HR/9inn, 12.3 K/9inn, and a 4.52 K:BB ratio – all of which led the American League. He received 26 of 28 first-place votes (Cleveland’s Jose Mesa got the other two first-place votes after recording 46 saves and a 1.13 ERA) in the American League Cy Young balloting.

In 1996, Johnson needed back surgery and would only make eight starts, with six August appearances in relief before pitching his final game of the season on August 24. He was 32 years old.

Johnson would come back from back surgery in 1997 and go 20-4, becoming the Mariners’ first-ever 20-game winner. He threw 213IP, with a 2.28 ERA/1.05 WHIP and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings – matching his K/9 rate from 1995 before back surgery. He missed the final four starts of the season due to an injured finger, which allowed Roger Clemens to surge ahead of Johnson for the AL Cy Young award with a 21-7 record and a 2.05 ERA/1.03 WHIP. Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte finished 5th in the voting after going 18-7 with a 2.88 ERA/1.24 WHIP in his third Major-League season, a season after leading the AL with 21 wins and finishing 2nd in the AL Cy Young voting.

Johnson would be a free agent following the 1998 season, and the Mariners knew Johnson would be seeking a contract similar to what Atlanta gave Greg Maddux in August 1997 – 5yrs/$57.5m.

November 14, 1997
The Mariners announce they will not be offering him an extension beyond his deal that would pay him $6m in 1998. It didn’t go over so well with Johnson or his agents Barry Meister and Alan Nero.

Barry Meister:
If they have no interest in signing him beyond next year, it’s probably best to move him for value so he can get on with his march toward the Hall of Fame with a club that wants him…My preference is that my client be somewhere where he’s happy, productive and wanted. 

Mariners’ Team President Chuck Armstrong:
The only decision we’ve made at this time is we’re not going to talk about an extension for 1998. Extending his contract beyond 1998 is not something prudent for us to do at this time. (GM) Woody (Woodward) is not shopping Randy Johnson but, if other teams want to talk about it, he’ll listen.

Randy Johnson is officially on the block, and teams are lining up.

The Astros are coming off an 84-78 season, which was good enough to win the NL Central (and a 3rd-place finish for Larry Dierker for NL Manager of the Year), but not good enough to win a single NLDS game against the Braves. They trade Manuel Barrios, Oscar Henriquez and Mark Johnson to the Marlins for 30-year old Moises Alou on November 11. The Astros extend GM Gerry Hunsicker and Dierker through the 1999 season.

Dierker says of his extension:
I'm pretty excited and ready for next year. This extension just gets me a little closer to that new stadium and that really has me excited.

Meanwhile in Houston, there is concern regarding what to do about Darryl Kile. The 28-year old RHP was coming off a 19-7 season, with a 2.57 ERA/1.18 WHIP in which he faced a league-leading 1056 batters. He threw six complete games, four of them shutouts, was a 1997 All-Star and finished 5th in the Cy Young voting. The Astros want to keep their payroll near $33m for 1998, and already have $13.2m committed to Bagwell and Biggio.

Kile, after filing for free agency, says:
Whatever I decide to do, it's going to come down to more than the highest bidder. If I decide to stay in Houston, I know I'll probably have to take a little less. I put a lot of sweat into that team and I have a lot of friends. It would not be easy for me to walk away.

November 18
The New York Times’ Buster Olney writes that the Mets are in on Randy Johnson, starting a package around 27-year old pitcher Bobby Jones, who had just gone 15-9 with a 3.63 ERA/1.24 WHIP – both of which would be career-highs.

The  Mets have made an offer for a Seattle player, said Mets General Manager Steve Phillips, who did not mention Johnson by name. But another club official said that the player is Johnson and that the Mets believe they have a legitimate chance at landing the left-hander.

Not content to let the Mets have all the fun, Olney reports that not only are the Yankees in on Johnson, but they had already made an offer that was rebuffed because of Seattle’s desire for a starting pitcher.

The Yankees reportedly offered Mariano Rivera for Johnson but were turned down, because of Seattle’s need for a starting pitcher. Bob Watson, the Yankees’ general manager, denied that report and said he was sensing that the Mariners’ position on (trading) Johnson may change.

November 20
A New York Times report says that the Mets and Mariners are “bogged down” after they can’t come to any sort of agreement on the players involved in a Randy Johnson trade. Despite Bobby Jones’ inclusion in a package, Mariners general manager Woody Woodward tells colleagues he “does not see any star potential” in the Mets’ offer.

Wire Reports confirm the Yankees and Mets interest in Johnson, and report that the Mariners balked at a package that included Mariano Rivera, 25-year old pitcher Ramiro Mendoza and 24-year old minor-league outfielder Ricky Ledee, because they want Andy Pettitte in a deal.

November 22
The New York Times’ Murray Chass says no new developments have surfaced in Johnson talks, but that George Steinbrenner “covets” Johnson. Mariners’ GM Woody Woodward did not even return phone calls on November 21. Chass quotes another general manager who says:
The Yankees can’t trade Pettitte, but they’ve got to give the Mariners Rivera, Ledee and Mendoza and get on with it. They’ve got to make that trade.

November 26
Wire Reports discover a rift between Yankees GM Bob Watson and Steinbrenner after Watson claims Steinbrenner “cut him out” of the Johnson talks, and other major free agent deals.

December 5
The Colorado Rockies win a bidding war for Darryl Kile, signing him to a 3yr/$24m deal, making Kile the 4th-highest paid pitcher in baseball. The Astros maintain that they had offered Kile a 3yr/$21m deal.  

December 9
Jeff Bagwell disputes the Astros' offer for Kile (who shares the same agent as Bagwell in Barry Axelrod), claiming the Astros offered Kile a 3yr/$18m deal with an option for a 4th year or a $2m buyout:
Darryl didn't want the option year and those things. He told them three weeks ago, 'If you guys change it to a signing bonus of $3 million and then three years at $6 million, we'll sign it. 

GM Gerry Hunsicker is confused about just what happened with the negotiations:
I've got a lot of unanswered questions about it myself. I would like to sit down with Jeff and Darryl, too, to see what happened. I've always been in Darryl's corner...There appeared to be a sense of urgency on their part and I'm not sure why. We conferred and there were several different offers and every time we upped the offer.

Hunsicker places subtle blame on Drayton and his $37m budget line:
We went farther than we really could. That's the really frustrating part. Then to lose Darryl and on top of that have (Bagwell's complaint).

December 11
The Tacoma News Tribune talks to Lou Piniella, who explains the Mariners’ position:
We all talked about Randy’s situation, and everyone wanted to extend him. It wasn’t a question of his ability, just dollars and cents. I know ownership anguished about the decision. You’ve got to be realistic about payroll. There are constraints, there are limits.

That report says that, while nothing seems imminent, Woodward continues to talk to three teams about a Johnson trade.

The same day, the New York Times’ Jack Curry says that Yankees have “scant hope” about trading for Johnson, since Woodward wants both Pettitte and Rivera. Steinbrenner:
I have as good a relationship with Woody Woodward and Lou Piniella as anyone in baseball, but they shouldn’t try to make the old man look bad.

December 22
The Astros trade reliever John Hudek for 26-year old outfielder Carl Everett.

December 30
Wire Reports quote Randy Johnson who feels as though the Mariners’ demands are preventing a trade from going through:
(The Mariners) are asking for a lot. With (the Yankees), they are asking for a couple of players and the Statue of Liberty. And Cleveland, they are asking for a couple of players and Jacobs Field. That’s not going to happen. Teams know I am not going to be there after next year. Why not wait a year, and they know they can get me? I mean, they are trying to get Andy Pettitte. Well, keep Andy Pettitte because I will be there a year from now in a possible scenario. If I had my wish, I would have already been traded by now. It is an uncomfortable situation knowing I am not going to be there beyond next year.

January 22, 1998
The calendar turns to 1998 and the rumors are renewed. An Associated Press article says 22-year old shortstop Alex Rodriguez heard a rumor that he and Johnson would be traded to New York for Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez and David Wells.

Woody Woodward refutes it:
There have been some trade discussions, but nothing is ready to happen. I wouldn’t mind having another inexpensive pitcher, and we are certainly open to talk about Randy Johnson. I will leave it at that.

January 24
The Associated Press mentions a Seattle Times report that the Mariners are talking about a deal that would send Johnson to the Dodgers for three players, including 24-year old Ismael Valdez who, at the time, was 41-30 in 3+ seasons for LA with a 3.03 ERA/1.14 WHIP and was a year removed from a 15-7 season. In 1997, Valdez went 10-11, but with a 2.65 ERA/1.11 WHIP for LA.

Dodgers executive vice president Fred Claire:
I wouldn’t term anything there close in any way. Very frankly, I don’t expect to make a trade with the Mariners or any significant move before the start of Spring Training.

Mariners GM Woody Woodward concurs:
The key words for me are that we ‘aren’t close.’ We have talked to the Dodgers, among other clubs, since the holidays. I won’t get into names that we’ve talked about.

January 27
Three days later Buster Olney indicates that Steinbrenner and GM Bob Watson have smoothed over their rift, and that he was turning negotiations for both Chuck Knoblauch and Randy Johnson to Watson. The Mariners are still insisting on Andy Pettitte in a deal. Bob Watson isn’t having it:
They’re still insisting on their original package. Our position has not changed.

February 16

The Astros agree on one-year contracts with a number of players, including Carlos Guillen and Freddy Garcia.

February 25
Almost a month goes by with no discernible/public movement. But news explodes on February 25 when Randy Johnson goes off on the Mariners’ refusal to give him an extension:
 (It’s) like me telling my wife I want a divorce and not leaving…I’m just disappointed with everything that’s happened here…I have legitimate reasons to be upset, but I’m trying to be the bigger man here. I’m a professional, I’ve worked hard to get back to this level after back surgery. I feel a little slighted. I brought a lot to the table for the Mariners, and I haven’t got the same back from them.

(Not related to this discussion, but of note, the Astros on February 25 hold an impromptu fund-raiser to benefit the families of a tornado that killed 38 people 200 yards from the Astros Spring Training complex in Kissimmee the day before). 

February 26
The Dodgers’ executive vice president Fred Claire tells the media that a deal for Randy Johnson is “not going to happen.”

March 5
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s T.R. Sullivan, reporting from Spring Training, isn’t happy with Randy Johnson:
Somebody tell Randy Johnson to shut up and pitch….He’s upset the Mariners refuse to give a pitcher who will be 35 in September and has a history of back problems an extension that would likely be worth $10 million or more per season….Maybe the Mariners will look as stupid as the Astros did when they let Nolan Ryan get away or the Red Sox when they failed to re-sign Roger Clemens. That’s not the point.

March 16
Rumors surface that the Astros and Braves are considering a deal that would send 20-game winner Denny Neagle to the Astros for second baseman Craig Biggio to fill the Astros' need for a No. 1 starter in the wake of Darryl Kile's departure.
There may be some logic there - because the Braves are unhappy with their second base situation and the Astros need a No. 1 starter - but it doesn't really add up. 

March 28
Johnson talks about the trade rumors/discussion by saying he’s not going to talk about them anymore:
I don’t want to talk about that. I’m not going to talk about that kind of stuff, and if any more questions get brought up at all this year, I will not talk to any more media people.

March 31
The Mariners open their season with a 10-9 loss to Cleveland. Johnson allows 11H/6R (5ER), 7K:2BB in 5.2IP.

The Astros lose their opener to the Giants, 9-4, in 13 innings. 

May 25
The Associated Press reports that, while Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos is reluctant to move Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro, he’ll approve a deal if the front office can find a player who will help the Orioles in 1998 and beyond. Baltimore GM Pat Gillick says he’s interested in Johnson, but is concerned about his physical status.  Orioles officials are convinced that they can’t retain Alomar and Palmeiro due to their disenchantment with the last-place team.

The day before, Johnson threw a complete game against Tampa Bay, striking out 15, and lowering his ERA to 6.02 with a 4-3 record. The Mariners, who began the season among the favorites in the American League West, beat Gillick’s Orioles on May 25 to improve to 23-27, 8.5 games back in the division.

The Astros are 31-19 after a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers in 10 innings, but are still three games up in the division.

May 28
The Associated Press reports that, two weeks after the Dodgers traded Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile to the Marlins for Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson, Jim Eisenreich and Manuel Barrios, they’re on the verge of their second blockbuster deal of the month. The report – from MSNBC – is Randy Johnson for 29-year old Hideo Nomo and a to-be-determined outfielder (possibly Roger Cedeno, Thomas Howard or Trenidad Hubbard) and that the deal could be completed before the end of the day.

While that report swirled, the Mariners “were expected to have” discussions with the Padres about 27-year old starter and former 1st Round pick Joey Hamilton, who was 27-16 in 1996-1997 for the Padres, racking up over 400IP over those two seasons. Thursday’s Washington Post says the Orioles are in pursuit of Johnson.

Meanwhile, Randy Johnson’s agent – Alan Nero – reiterated his request for a trade. The Mariners tell both Johnson and Nero that they will adhere to the request, but unless he pitched better, there would be no interest. Through his first ten starts, Johnson was 3-3, but with a 6.83 ERA.

The Astros are 32-20, 3.5 games up.

May 29
Both the Mariners and Dodgers dismiss the report that a trade with the two teams was imminent, though Dodgers executive vice president Fred Claire says the Mariners made a trade proposal that he turned down.

Shortly before Johnson dominates the Devil Rays again (8IP, 3H/1ER, 10K:2BB) General Manager Woody Woodward says:
If somebody comes along and gives us a good deal and fills a couple of needs, we’ll make a deal…I don’t anticipate any type of deal while the ball club is here in Tampa. There’s not a timetable. Would I like to get something done? Certainly.

Meanwhile Buster Olney says that Yankees GM Brian Cashman had two conversations with the Mariners the previous day and would have another that night.

The Orioles are interested, as well, as the American League teams line up to bid on Johnson’s services. Baltimore’s Assistant GM Kevin Malone tells the Associated Press:
We would like to add if we could, or subtract if need be, to make us a better club…I’m not sure Randy Johnson is available. If he became available, we would have to have some interest because we think a front-line starter would really be a significant addition to this pitching staff. We would be irresponsible not to try to get him.

The AP report says the Orioles will make a trade if the right deal comes along but, for now, Alomar and Palmeiro are staying put.

May 31

Two months before the July 31 trade deadline Buster Olney says that, if the Mariners will back off their desire for Pettitte, the Yankees are in “excellent position” to acquire Johnson. Olney:
The feeling of one influential baseball official is that while the Yankees may not have the best single player to dangle for Johnson, they could put together the best package offer: pitcher Ramiro Mendoza and position prospects such as Mike Lowell and Ricky Ledee…The Yankees have depth at third base and in the outfield, making Lowell and Ledee expendable, and the Mariners, an older team with a high payroll, desperately need the infusion of young, cheap players, particularly with Ken Griffey, Jr and Alex Rodriguez due for contract renegotiations in the next few years.

June 4
The Dodgers trade Nomo with Brad Clontz to the Mets for Greg McMichael and Dave Mlicki. Nomo was 2-7 for the Dodgers in 1998 with a 5.05 ERA/1.40 WHIP, and his effectiveness had waned with each season in a Dodgers uniform.

After a 5-1 loss at San Diego, the Astros' lead in the NL Central is down to one game.

June 9
Associated Press’ Jim Cour talks to Lou Piniella, who is not happy with the Mariners’ 27-36 record (as of June 8):
I can sit here and tell you it’s going to get better. I’ve said that before, but I haven’t seen it. The ability’s here. Possibly we need to change the mix some.

After a four-game stretch where the Astros are tied with the Cubs, the Astros beat Detroit for the second straight game, and regain their one-game division lead.

June 15
It seems as though the press has turned on both Johnson and the Mariners. The Tacoma News Tribune’s Larry LaRue:
Randy Johnson isn’t likely to finish the season a Mariner, despite the team’s statement to the contrary…He’ll be gone, probably before the July 31 trading deadline. And the best time to have made the deal will have been eight months gone…After nearly 10 days of dealing with Johnson, how could the Mariners’ front office not have known he was incapable of pitching well here this season knowing the team didn’t want him back? His teammates knew back in November. His manager knew. His pitching coach knew.

Johnson is 5-5 with a 5.34 ERA and the Mariners are 2-4 in Johnson’s previous six starts. The Astros win the final two games of a four-game series at Cincinnati, and their lead is two games. 

June 21
Murray Chass talked to Piniella about the distractions that have come with the Johnson Media Circus:
It’s been a distraction. It’s been there all spring and all season. It’s a situation that you should be able to play through. But it has been a distraction, no question. In other years we banked on Randy to stop losing streaks and get us in a positive mode, and this year that hasn’t happened. That’s compounded the problem.

Heading into the rubber game of a series with the A’s on June 21, the Mariners are 30-44, 14 games back in the division. The Astros complete a three-game sweep of Cincinnati at the Astrodome, providing a four-game cushion in the division. 

June 30
Larry LaRue hears why the deal with the Dodgers at the beginning of June was killed:
Players believe one of the (Mariners) owners yanked Randy Johnson out of the almost-completed Randy Johnson trade with Los Angeles. Why? Executives deny it, but one club official insists the reasoning was simple – the owner didn’t want to be known in Northwest social circles as the man who send Johnson packing.

The Mariners are 34-49, 16 games back of the Angels in the division with the third-worst record in the American League. The Astros win their third straight game to push their record to 50-32, leading the NLC by six games. 

July 4
The Dodgers trade Paul Konerko and Dennys Reyes to the Reds for Jeff Shaw. The Yankees become the first team in 86 years to start a season 60-20, and are 32-6 at home.

July 8
Mariners’ GM Woody Woodward expresses frustration with the team to the Associated Press:
We’ve played poorly. We seem to have found ways to lose….One night we lose it defensively. Another night we lose it in the bullpen. You name it, we seem to pick out ways to lose.

When asked if he was worried about his job:
No sir, not at all. Should I be?

July 10
Randy Johnson and David Segui get into a fight in the clubhouse before Game 99 against the Angels. The Mariners lose, 5-3, to move to 13 games back of Anaheum. The Astros are six games up in the Central.

July 12
The New York Times offers details of the  altercation in the Mariners’ clubhouse between Johnson and first baseman David Segui prior to a game with the Angels:
Randy Johnson, pitching a day after being involved in a clubhouse fight with his teammate David Segui, struck out 15 in his first shutout of the season…Johnson went after Segui after Segui made a remark about him to their teammate Jay Buhner, said Mike Pease of Seattle radio station KJR, a witness. His charge carried the two players into Buhner’s locker, where teammates, Manager Lou Piniella and the pitching coach, Stan Williams, broke up the profanity-laced wrestling match.

Buster Olney says that baseball executives now believe the Mariners will trade Johnson, even though Woodward is under orders not to even listen to offers. Olney says a Yankees trade would be made mainly to keep him off of rival rosters:
Because Johnson is capable of dominating in the post-season, some in the Yankees’ organization are concerned he could swing the balance in a short series. The Yankees’ interest in him would primarily be to prevent him from pitching for another American League contender.

The Astros drop their third straight game at St. Louis, cutting their division lead to four games.

July 14
Larry LaRue says that the 16 owners of the Mariners haven’t backed off their decision to keep Johnson through the end of the 1998 season, though with the deadline a little over two weeks away, the Indians, Mets, and Dodgers have called about Johnson, but talks have not progressed.

One Mariners executive says:
Put it this way, if teams say they’re talking about Randy Johnson, they must be talking to themselves.

LaRue shakes his head:
The decision by owners to pull Johnson off the market a month ago, when general manager Woody Woodward was negotiating a deal with Los Angeles, has handcuffed everyone in the front office…It means Johnson, who scuffled in the clubhouse with David Segui, cannot be traded no matter what the offer – and no matter how badly he or his teammates want a deal made.

On the Dodgers, a Mariners executive intimates that the Dodgers trade rumor was started by GM Tommy Lasorda:
Tommy is good at making Tommy look good. If he tells you he’s going to get Randy Johnson, he gets good press. If he doesn’t make the deal, he can say we backed out and get good press.

On July 14, the Mariners take the second of two games with the Rangers to improve to 41-53, eleven games back in the division. 

July 15

The Akron Beacon Journal’s  Terry Pluto has some thoughts on a USA Today report linking 32-year old pitcher Dave Burba and 27-year old outfielder Brian Giles to Seattle for Randy Johnson.
Not gonna happen. You can write that in ink…You don’t clean out your farm system for Johnson. You don’t even let them talk about Richie Sexson, Enrique Wilson and Willie Martinez – and that supposedly is the type of package that is of interest to the Mariners, who want young, cheap players for Johnson….Burba is a keeper, and trading him for Johnson is an enormous gamble, one that the Tribe hopefully will resist.

July 18
The Associated Press’ Jim Cour says that Brian Cashman “has acknowledged” talking to Woodward in the last 36 hours, but that they did not discuss Randy Johnson. Meanwhile, an AL official says executives from Cleveland talked about “vague parameters” of a Randy Johnson trade that would include Enrique Wilson and Brian Giles. Woodward denies the conversation, saying he is under orders from Seattle ownership not to talk about Johnson with other teams.

The Rangers trade Warren Morris and Todd Van Poppel to Pittsburgh for Esteban Loaiza.

The Mariners win their sixth game in a row, defeating the Royals 8-5 and pulling to within nine games of Anaheim. The Astros win the second of three games against the Giants, putting them at 57-39, five games up. 

July 19
Murray Chass reiterates that Johnson isn't going anywhere unless ownership unshackles Woody Woodward, who says:
Our position is the same as it has been since we announced that we would not be trading Randy and that we were to have no further comments.

Chass blames a lack of movement on the trade on the “Japanese segment” of the Mariners’ ownership group:
Until that June 2 announcement, the Mariners were prepared to trade Johnson to Los Angeles for Ismael Valdes and Wilton Guerrero plus a relief pitcher, or to another team that might have jumped in with a better offer. But the Japanese segment of the club’s ownership, who do not intend to sign Johnson, inexplicably yanked him off the market, and he remains in that lame-duck state.

July 24
The Cleveland Indians kickoff the week of the Trade Deadline by dealing Eric Plunk for Milwaukee's Doug Jones. Associated Press’ Ken Berger:
Though he said his chances of landing Johnson or Alomar were too small to even comment on, (Indians General Manager John) Hart is not finished looking for deals.

The Mariners drop the opening game of the series to the Orioles to move to 46-56, 10 games back. The Astros are 61-41, 4.5 games up.

July 28
Further details come out about that July 10 fight between Johnson and David Segui. Apparently, despite Segui missing the game with a sprained wrist, Johnson says no punches were thrown. He tells Seattle radio station KJR that he had guests in the clubhouse, where two stereo speakers were located. Segui had turned up the music. Johnson:
I tried to hold a conversation with my guests and I basically told David Segui, ‘Could the stereo be any louder,’ kind of sarcastic. He gave me a sarcastic answer as well and I haven’t been in the mood to hear that kind of stuff and tempers flared.

On the same day, the New York Times’ Jack Curry says Cashman is still calling the Mariners, but they had not responded for two days. Cashman wonders if Johnson is even available in a trade, which is why Cashman floated the idea of a Knoblauch/Alomar trade with the Orioles earlier in the month. 

After winning the series with the Orioles, the Mariners lose the opening game of a three-game set with Cleveland. Randy Johnson throws a complete game and strikes out 12, but allows four earned runs on four hits and six walks to fall to 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA.

As he walks off the mound in Seattle after getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the 9th, Johnson - in what could be his final start as a Mariner - grabs the bill of his hat as a show of appreciation to the 31,124 Mariners fans in attendance. 

The Astros increase their division lead to 3.5 games after a 7-3 win against the Marlins.

July 29
A major league executive tells the New York Times that:
You might be able to trade for him, but only if you give them exactly what they want. They have to have the right deal to move him – and then they still might not do it.

The Times says the Mariners would want Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Lowell, who would hit .304/.355/.535 for Columbus in 1998, but the deal could include Mike Timlin. The report indicates the Yankees "might not be willing to part with two or three prospects."

In Cleveland, Indians closer Mike Jackson tells the Associated Press:
We’ll take him. He’d be a nice pitcher to have down the stretch…I think that’s the one piece that we need – to get a left-hander. I think that would be the last ingredient we’d need to get us over the hump and hopefully get us back to the World Series.

Manager Mike Hargrove says:
I think anybody would love to have Randy Johnson. But I would be surprised if it happened. I really would. 

Now, two days before the Trade Deadline, the Indians take the second of three games against Seattle, increasing Cleveland's division lead to 10.5 games. 

July 30
According to the Associated Press, rumors spread that Johnson is about to be traded to the Yankees. Manager Joe Torre:
I know nothing about it. I have no knowledge about it. I think they would let me know.

The Mariners want 29-year old Hideki Irabu who, at the time, was 9-4 with a 3.19 ERA, while the Yankees want Mike Timlin in addition to Johnson. 

Before they head into a three-game series against the Yankees, the Mariners get swept by the Indians, losing 9-8 in 17 innings in the series finale while Ken Griffey Jr. hits his 41st homer of the season, tying the AL record for most homers through July 31.

Johnson plays catch before the game but sits on the bench for all 17 innings "with a glum expression on his face." The AP report continues to mention that the Indians, Yankees and Dodgers were still in talks for Johnson.

July 31 - Trade Deadline Day

Prior to Deadline Day, Mariners president Chuck Armstrong says that Seattle is talking with "several teams," - the first public move away from ownership's reluctance to deal Johnson.

The Associated Press' Jim Cour talked to Lou Piniella, who was about to face the Yankees in Seattle. When asked if he knew of anything related to Johnson, Piniella replied, "Not that I know of."

The Indians manager Mike Hargrove, fresh off their sweep of Seattle, talked to GM John Hart and remained hopeful Cleveland could get Johnson, by the end of the 31st but predicted any deal would go down to "the last minute."

Buster Olney says word has leaked out of Seattle that Cleveland - who eliminated the Yankees from the post-season on their way to the World Series - is a primary bidder for Johnson, and represents the "largest obstacle to the Yankees playing in the World Series."

Cashman says:
We’ll make the best decision based on all the information on the board, and we’ll live with it.

Indians manager Mike Hargrove says:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if Randy winds up anywhere and it’s not in Cleveland, then I hope it’s in the National League.

The Braves are also now in on Johnson, offering Kevin Millwood. Olney says Cleveland has upped their package to Enrique Wilson and Paul Shuey, as are the Orioles.

The Madison Square Garden sports wire accidentally goes on line to say that the Mariners deal Johnson for Hideki Irabu, Ramiro Mendoza and Homer Bush. They retract the story immediately.

The Giants trade Willie Blair and Jorge Fabregas and cash to the Mets for Nelson Figueroa, Bernard Gilkey, and other, different cash. The Rangers trade Fernando Tatis, Darren Oliver and Mark Little to St. Louis for Royce Clayton and Todd Stottlemyre. The Rangers turn down a deal that would include four-time All-Star Roger Clemens because they don't want to give up Rusty Greer.

Reports surface that the Astros (as well as the Yankees and Indians) are linked to Toronto pitcher Roger Clemens, who wants to be closer to his children.

The Astros spend the deadline day at Pittsburgh, with Mike Hampton getting the series-opening win after throwing 6.2IP, 6H/3ER, 4K:1BB and putting his record at 9-5.

Minutes before the trade deadline, the Astros agree to trade Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama (the player to be named later), to the Mariners for Randy Johnson. The Mariners were rebuffed when they asked for Scott Elarton.

Freddy Garcia was just 21 years old and had just made his second start at Triple-A New Orleans at the time of the trade, having gone 6-7 for Double-A Jackson  with a 3.24 ERA/1.27 WHIP, with 115 strikeouts in 119.1IP.

Shortstop Carlos Guillen was 22 years old and had played in just 59 games in the Astros' organization over 1995 and 1996, but his 29-game 1996 season saw him hit .330/.405/.491 - good enough to earn him the #27 overall prospect ranking from Baseball America prior to the 1997 season. At Double-A Jackson as a 21-year old in 1997, Guillen hit .254/.322/.377 with just 78 strikeouts in 436 plate appearances. He was hitting .291/.350/.457 for New Orleans prior to the Johnson trade

26-year old John Halama - the Player to be Named Later - was drafted by the Astros in the 23rd Round of the 1994 draft. In two seasons at New Orleans in 1997-1998, Halama was 25-6 with a 2.84 ERA. He had pitched in six games in Houston prior to the trade, throwing 32.1IP with a 5.85 ERA/1.55 WHIP.

August 1
Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker sums up the urgency of the Astros' situation:
You have only so many chances. When you do have a chance like this, you have to take it. We identified all along our primary need was a No. 1 starter, and we got one of the dominating starters in the game. It’s been a long night (of negotiating) and I didn’t think we had much of a chance, but we were able to pull it off.

Larry Dierker is more cautious about the move:
We sacrificed the future for the present.

Jeff Bagwell is pumped:
We heard before the game we were in the running for Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens, but you can’t get too excited about it because of the teams that were in it.

Brian Cashman laments that Johnson was just too expensive:
We discussed a lot of things with a lot of different clubs, but the price to try to improve at this time was just too high. We like this team and have a great deal of confidence in it.
August 2
The Seattle Times’ Bob Finnegan offers a post-mortem on the trade, and the Mariners are not happy.
Seattle players feel they were victims of an assault and battery, and their own management people were the guys in the masks. Twelve hours after the neutron news hit, the outrage started a half-life process. Curses were replaced by blank looks, shakes of the head and gallows humor.

Ken Griffey, Jr. couldn't understand how the Mariners could get so little, referring to the Mariners' return as "three kids with no reputations," and says if that's all they could get for Johnson, "They would get a bag of balls if they traded me."

Woodward tries to calm everybody down:
It’s hard to believe, but there was very little interest in Randy Johnson…The best deal I had available was two months ago (with the Dodgers, Ismael Valdes, Wilton Guerrero and minor-league pitcher Ted Lilly) and the organization decided not to make it. I’m part of that organization, and I abide by that decision.

Finnegan:
Simply, Woodward waited too long…While he dickered with teams over Johnson, there were only two, Cleveland and New York, with whom the Mariners had a prime fit….Woodward’s focus was on the Yankees all along. He had a single demand: a pitcher, more likely Hideki Irabu than Ramiro Mendoza, Columbus third baseman Mike Lowell and another minor league player.

Woodward says that the Yankees were the target, and the player they truly wanted was 24-year old minor-league third baseman Mike Lowell, who hit .315/.401/.562 in the Double-A and Triple-A in 1997. Woodward called Lowell a "deal-breaker" if they couldn't get him, though Finnegan reports the Mariners would immediately flip Lowell to the Marlins for second baseman Luis Castillo. The Yankees themselves would trade Lowell to the Marlins the following off-season for Todd Noel, Mark Johnson and Ed Yarnall.

The Mariners' Alex Rodriguez doesn't understand why Lowell was the hang-up, and posits a theory of his own. :
I played with Mike Lowell since I was 10, starting in Little League. I heard he’d improved a lot recently, but if he was the guy they had to have, I don’t understand…I think Cleveland and New York worked together to see that Randy did not go to either of those teams. All they cared about was the other didn’t get him. They thought, ‘We’ll play even-square in the playoffs; neither of us has Randy.’

August 2
Murray Chass highlights just how crazy the rumors were in the days leading up to the deadline. Rangers GM Doug Melvin said a coach got a call from a friend who heard that Johnson and Mike Timlin were headed to the Yankees for Irabu, Ledee, Lowell and Homer Bush and the Yankees would sign Johnson to a 3yr/$36m extension. A Toronto newspaper had the Blue Jays trading Randy Myers to the Yankees because the Yankees were trading Rivera to the Mariners for Johnson.

Woody Woodward, on the Johnson trade negotiations:
I have never seen anything like it.

With the deadline passed, and Johnson traded, Chass can address just what happened between the Mariners and Dodgers, who apparently had a far better offer than any other team:
The same day the Dodgers designated Hideo Nomo for assignment because he wanted to be traded they presented a three-pronged proposal to the Mariners. Seattle could take one of three pairs of players: Nomo and Ismael Valdes; Nomo and Wilton Guerrero; or Nomo and Roger Cedeno. Had the Mariners’ owner not blocked a Johnson trade, the Mariners weren’t necessarily going to grab one of the pairs of players. The strategy was to get the Yankees involved and perhaps extract an even better offer from them. Had that failed, the Dodgers’ deal still looked attractive.

August 3

Chipper Jones sizes up the new threat in Houston:
I think those were gulps you heard around midnight Friday from Atlanta, San Diego and Chicago. Picking up Johnson has to make Houston the favorite. In a (seven-game) series you are going to have to face Randy at least twice, which means you may have to win four games against pitchers like Hampton and Reynolds.

3 comments:

Cockroach said...

With 15 years of perspective on this deal, we know that Garcia and Guillen became All-Stars, Halama was at worst above average for Seattle, and the trio contributed 33.3 career WAR to the Mariners. We also know that Johnson gave Houston 4.3 WAR in two months (!) and the franchise's only ever 100+ win season, but got them no further in the playoffs than they got without him. So Mariners fans are absolutely justified in feeling they "won" this deal. But 15 years later, even knowing all that, it's still a trade I would absolutely make again. My only regret about the deal is that Johnson didn't re-sign to win his four straight Cy Young awards in Houston rather than in Arizona, but that's always a known risk when you trade for a guy on an expiring contract.

Outstanding work as always, sir.

Stu said...

Totally agree. Even in hindsight knowing that Johnson didn't re-sign with us, I'd make this deal 100 times out of 100. Gave us a legitimate shot that year (although who the hell was gonna beat the Yankees that year anyway?). It's a shame we couldn't beat Kevin f'ing Brown in either of those games. But I'd do it all over again because we had every bit as much of a chance to win the World Series with that team going into the playoffs as we ever have.

Ed said...

Just got a chance to read this. An excellent timeline. That was a fun season, full of promise. The trade for Johnson was as big a 'win' as the Astros have ever put on the board.