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Exit stage left?

Yankees dangling Johnson, may join Zito sweepstakes

Posted: Monday December 25, 2006 8:43PM; Updated: Monday December 25, 2006 10:29PM
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The Big Unit has a no-trade clause, meaning the 10-time All-Star must approve any deal.
The Big Unit has a no-trade clause, meaning the 10-time All-Star must approve any deal.
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If they can pull off the blockbuster trade they're talking about, the New York Yankees could replace one star left-hander with another.

Randy Johnson is available, and the Yankees have begun trade talks with the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres and possibly the San Francisco Giants, and if they are able to deal Johnson, the Yankees could jump in as a surprise late entrant in the Barry Zito sweepstakes.

Johnson asked the Yankees last week if they could investigate a trade to move him back closer to his Phoenix area home, and the team has obliged his request to look into it. While the Yankees mull a landing spot for The Big Unit -- Arizona may be the most logical landing spot since he wants to be near his Phoenix area home and has a no-trade clause, and the D'backs have expressed interest in bringing him back -- the Yankees have to be thinking about Zito as a potential replacement.

Johnson told the Yankees he would prefer to be closer to home for family reasons but has not put any demands on the team and said he would be happy to pitch again for the Yankees if the team can't find a suitable deal, a baseball official said. The Yankees are not believed to be operating as if they have to deal Johnson and would only do it if the deal makes sense from a baseball standpoint. Depending upon the offer, they might consider allaying Johnson's $16 million salary.

In talks with Arizona, the Yankees have shown interest in several young pitchers, including Micah Owings, Ross Ohlendorf, Brandon Medders, Luis Vizcaino and Dana Eveland, who was just acquired in their six-player trade with Milwaukee that also brought them Doug Davis. However, to this point Arizona, which is stocked with young talent, has balked at the combinations the Yankees have requested.

The Giants have a decent crop of young pitchers to complete a trade for Johnson, while a Padres deal would likely include reliever Scott Linebrink, who's often the subject of trade rumors.

While there is no timetable for such a trade, the Yankees would probably want to work quickly to line up a replacement for their rotation. They already have six starting pitchers, but there are questions about most of them. Johnson himself will be returning from back surgery after going 17-8 with a 5.00 ERA last season.

The Yankees have been on the periphery of the Zito negotiations so far, but it's logical to think they'd enter the talks for the top free-agent pitcher if they were to find a trade for Johnson. The crosstown Mets are currently bidding for Zito, as are the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Giants. Zito is believed to be seeking a seven-year deal for close to $17 million annually.

The Yankees seemed lukewarm for most of this winter about the prospect of adding Zito but probably realize now that he is their best bet to improve their rotation. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman did not show much interest in Zito when he met with Zito's agent, Scott Boras, almost three weeks ago in Orlando, Fla. However, one of the Yankees' goals is to get younger, and Zito, 28, would enable them to do that.