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A farewell to the Big Unit?

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Randy is forced to file for free agency and consider all opportunities to further his career. He hopes to find a team where he can continue to pitch at a high level and contribute to another world championship. Randy and his family live in Arizona and he will always be a Diamondback at heart. Most of all, Randy will miss the overwhelming support the fans have shown him throughout the years. He wishes the Diamondbacks great success in 2009 and beyond.

There is now a very real possibility that the future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson will not get to finish his career, or reach the 300-win mark with the Arizona Diamondbacks, with the news today that he has filed for free agency. While this move does not completely rule out the possibility of a return to the desert, it does appear that the sides are some way apart in their opinion of Johnson's worth. The poignant statement from his agents above does not exactly lend itself to much optimism in this matter:

Most estimates put the amount offered by Josh Byrnes at around the $3m mark; it's not quite clear what Johnson wanted, but he said, "I was willing to take a 50 percent pay cut to come back here." What that means, depends on what you take the 50% as being of, exactly. Randy's base salary in 2008 was ten million, but by the time you add in other components - part of the signing bonus, deferred salaries from his previous deal and a "personal services" contract - the total he got from the D-backs was likely north of $15m. One imagines that is likely the number he and his agents are using for their 'half-price' quotes, and hence the figure Johnson wanted was in the $7-8m area.

Though even this much wouldn't seem too much for some who pitched like a #3 starter last season - and better than that after the break - it seemed the risk of a 45-year old with a questionable back was too much for the organization to take. Don't forget, the first year here, he made only ten starts. Tracy Ringolsby reports, "One concern for the Diamondbacks was how committed Johnson would remain after he gets to 300," and that does seem a possible issue. But our siblings over at look at the evidence that this could be part of an Arizona fire-sale, perhaps tied in part to the current economic conditions. And it also goes without saying [but dammit, I'm going to say so anyway], that the $11m tied up for 2009 in our fourth outfielder would be very nice about now.

I do totally appreciate JB's position: while there are salaries coming off the books this winter [no more Russ Ortiz!], a good chunk of that is already due to be used on pay increases to existing players. Almost every regular players is scheduled for an increase in 2009, and the huge number of early picks could mean the draft ends up costing as much as $12m. It means Byrnes has only about $10-15 million to spend this winter, and that includes the money needed to find an everyday second baseman.  He said, "In every negotiation, you try to have an understanding of market value and an understanding of the team context. Sometimes that helps get a deal done. Sometimes it doesn’t.” He added, "Something would have to fundamentally change in our position or their position or both in order for us to close the gap." Winning this weekend's Powerball lottery is probably the team's best hope.

In certain quarters, there appears to be anger being directed at Randy - the Republic poll at the moment is running almost 50/50 as to whether the loss of Johnson would be a bad development or not. Personally, I do feel a sense he might 'owe' the team something for taking him back after his time in New York, and his failure to live up to a very expensive contract in 2007. Dan Bickley points out that Johnson has already earned at least $167 million over the course of his career, and it would seem hard to swallow that money is the "real" issue here. If Johnson wanted to finish his career here, he could do so, and would be welcome on his own terms: this is not a Luis Gonzalez-like situation, by any means.

The Tribune speculates on where Johnson might end up, if he does go elsewhere. He probably won't want to go too far, but the Dodgers appear to be aiming their cash at Ramirez, while the Padres are in "sell" mode and neither the AL teams (Angels and A's) nor the Giants appear immediately to have much interest. Still, I imagine San Diego will be particularly happy if the Big Unit leaves the division, since he is 16-5 with a 2.45 ERA against them in his career. [The Cubs, against whom he is 13-0, must be praying he doesn't end up in the Central!]

Here's an interesting thought as a replacement. Curt Schilling? He has expressed a lot of interest in potentially coming back to Arizona for a Clemens-like partial season. He said during an interview on KTAR [MP3, about nine minutes in] on November 4 that, "Arizona is absolutely one of those teams I would consider. I love Josh Byrnes. I’m a huge Bob Melvin fan... I’ll have an opportunity to pick and choose and I will pick and choose a team that is in contention and I fully expect that team to be in contention.” While I am no fan of Schilling, it would be supremely ironic if we lost one half of the dynamic duo that propelled the team to the 2001 World Series, only for the other half to step up and fill the gap.