It would be best for the Yankees and pitcher Randy Johnson to split ties before the start of the new season. Hopefully, a deal can get struck between Arizona and New York.
BY BILL MADDEN and
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITERS
The Diamondbacks have been the most aggressive suitors for Randy Johnson and sources close to the negotiations said yesterday that the Yankees and Arizona could complete a trade to send Johnson back to the desert before next week.
The Diamondbacks, who view Johnson as a gate attraction, want to talk to the Big Unit about a contract extension, a source said. That would give Arizona a chance to reap the attendance and buzz benefits of Johnson going for his 300th victory - he will enter next season with 280 wins.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have their eyes on a package of Arizona pitching prospects. The Diamondbacks are loaded with young talent and if the Yankees send Johnson home to Arizona - Johnson's home is in the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley - they'd like to get at least two of the following three pitchers: Dustin Nippert, Micah Owings and Ross Ohlendorf.
Nippert, 25, is a 6-8 righthander who was 13-8 with a 4.87 ERA in Triple-A last season and lost both his major league starts. Owings, a 6-5 righty, was 6-2 at Double-A and 10-0 at Triple-A. Ohlendorf, a 6-4 righty, spent most of last season in Double-A, going 10-8 with a 3.29 ERA. Ohlendorf had 125 strikeouts and only 29 walks in 177-2/3 innings.
The Padres, believed to be offering reliever Scott Linebrink, also have been involved, but the Yankees apparently prefer the players they might be able to pry from the Diamondbacks. While talks are ongoing, the Yankees have not brought a deal to Johnson and his agents to approve - Johnson has a full no-trade clause in his contract.
Johnson, who is coming off back surgery, did not request a trade, but the Yankees began discussions with other clubs after GM Brian Cashman called Johnson to offer condolences after Johnson's older brother died recently. During the call, Johnson told the GM it was important to be close to his family.
The Yankees don't feel that trading Johnson is a necessity, but they're willing to listen, and several baseball officials have said privately recently that the Yankees are working diligently to consummate a deal.
While the Yankees have been pursuing pitchers in their talks with the D-Backs, Padres and other West Coast teams, it's believed they have made progress in their plans for the spare parts they need at first base and utility infielder. A source said the Yankees are zeroing in on Doug Mientkiewicz to play first while Jason Giambi is the designated hitter, even though Mientkiewicz is a lefthanded batter.
Also, the source said, Mark Loretta may be the Yankees' first choice to be a utility infielder. Loretta had hoped to find a job as a regular second baseman, but hasn't.