Yanks' 3-team Johnson trade unravels

Dodgers back out

Astros pitcher Miller catches O's eye on the non-tendered list

December 22, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

By now, the Orioles have learned not to base their emotions on the drama surrounding each of the New York Yankees' big-name pursuits. They know George Steinbrenner won't stop until he's acquired every star in the galaxy.

So on the same day the Yankees hit another roadblock in their quest to land five-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson and met with the agent for prized center fielder Carlos Beltran, Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan showed his usual calm.

"We're not driven by what [the Yankees] do," Flanagan said yesterday. "Whoever they get, it's not going to change our focus. Otherwise, you might as well close the gates."

Last night, the Los Angeles Dodgers backed out of a three-team, 10-player trade that would have sent Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Yankees. For most of the day, all signs had pointed to that deal getting made, as Arizona and New York submitted the required paperwork to commissioner Bud Selig.

But the Dodgers refused to pull the trigger.

"As we sit here right now, the deal is no more," Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta said in a conference call. "I've been saying all along that we weren't going to do the deal unless it made sense for this club in 2005, and that was not the case."

Still, most analysts predict Johnson will wind up with the Yankees before the winter ends. He wants out of Arizona, he has a complete no-trade clause, and the Yankees are the team he wants to play for the most.

The Yankees don't have the players Arizona wants in return, so they'll undoubtedly seek a new third team to facilitate the deal, covering whatever costs come up along the way.

For a reference point, see last year's deal that sent Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers to the Yankees. For weeks, it seemed Rodriguez was headed to the Boston Red Sox, but after several twists and turns, he wound up in New York.

The Yankees have won seven consecutive AL East titles, and if they can indeed fit the 6-foot-10 Johnson into pinstripes, they'll be the favorites again for 2005. Even the defending champion Red Sox will have a hard time remaking their roster enough to stop that.

But the Yankees operate in a different stratosphere. Steinbrenner also met with agent Scott Boras yesterday to discuss Beltran, who is seeking a 10-year, $200 million deal.

By next year, New York's payroll could pass $200 million, while the Orioles' stays closer to $60 million.

So the Orioles went about their business as the Johnson drama played out. They spent much of yesterday studying a new crop of talent that became available after the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players.

Flanagan said the Orioles have interest in starting pitcher Wade Miller, who was non-tendered by Houston, making him a free agent. But Miller has a frayed rotator cuff, which forced him to stop pitching in September, and the Orioles will check his status before proceeding.

After spending six consecutive seasons in fourth place and moving to third last year, the Orioles still have an enormous hill to climb. Though they have yet to make a big-name acquisition this offseason, Flanagan said they are buoyed by the interest other teams have shown in their young pitchers.

In fact, there was a chance the Orioles could have benefited from yesterday's failed three-way trade. With Javier Vazquez making it known he didn't want to pitch in Los Angeles, the Dodgers were rumored to be considering a subsequent deal.

Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie is fond of Vazquez, who pitched for him with the Montreal Expos.

He made the All-Star team for the Yankees, but finished 14-10 with a 4.91 ERA. Vazquez still has three years and $35 million left on his contract.

Orioles sources said they had not spoken to the Dodgers about Vazquez, but he's still a name worth following.

In the proposed three-way trade, the Dodgers would have gotten Vazquez from the Yankees, along with catching prospect Dioner Navarro and third base prospect Eric Duncan. The Dodgers also would have acquired Mike Koplove from the Diamondbacks.

Arizona would have received Shawn Green, along with pitchers Brad Penny, Yhenzy Brazoban and Brandon Weeden.

The Yankees would have received Johnson and Dodgers pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii, with Los Angeles paying a large chunk of Ishii's salary. But DePodesta took serious criticism in Los Angeles once the trade particulars were announced. Already this offseason, the Dodgers have lost Adrian Beltre and Steve Finley to free agency.

DePodesta said the Dodgers could get involved again, but "probably only if they call us. I don't think we'll actively pursue" it.

In New York, Johnson would head a rotation with Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown.

The Red Sox have already lost Pedro Martinez to the New York Mets, and they'll likely lose Derek Lowe to free agency as well. Curt Schilling has said his surgically repaired right ankle might not be ready for Opening Day.

Until he returns, the Red Sox rotation could be some combination of David Wells, Matt Clement, Tim Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo and whomever else they acquire this offseason.

NOTES: The Orioles don't have the Washington Nationals on their regular-season schedule, but the teams will play three times in spring training: March 5 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and March 13 and March 25 in Vierra, Fla. The Orioles' exhibition opener is March 3 against the Florida Marlins in Jupiter, Fla. For spring ticket information, call 954-776-1921. ... The Orioles finished a one-year agreement with left-hander Bruce Chen with a base salary of $550,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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