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Staff shakeup

Yanks envision Clemens as replacement for Johnson

Posted: Sunday December 31, 2006 12:58AM; Updated: Sunday December 31, 2006 1:49AM
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Randy Johnson is reportedly hoping to return to Arizona, where he went 103-49 in six years and won a World Series.
Randy Johnson is reportedly hoping to return to Arizona, where he went 103-49 in six years and won a World Series.
John Iacono/SI

While the Yankees continue their efforts to trade Randy Johnson -- Arizona still seems the most likely landing spot -- they are envisioning Roger Clemens as the one to replace Johnson, to the point where they hope to convince Clemens to move up his possible 2007 start date, sources said.

Baseball people say the Yankees seem determined to deal Johnson and hopeful to convince Clemens to not only come to New York but to begin the season much earlier than he did with Houston in 2006. If the Yankees are successful in trading Johnson, their need for Clemens to start sooner becomes much more vital.

The Yankees were disappointed when Barry Zito went to the Giants for an eye-popping $126-million deal, but appear much more confident about their chances for Clemens. A person close to Zito suggested before Zito signed in San Francisco that the Yankees could have him if they matched the $18-million, seven-year contract Zito got in San Francisco, or if they came close to it. But according to someone familiar with their plans, the Yankees rebuffed that offer, as they were thinking more along the lines of $80 million for five years and first needed to secure a trade for Johnson, anyway.

The Yankees are more optimistic about landing Clemens even though his current public stance is that he hasn't decided whether to return in 2007. If he does, the Yankees hope he will come back for them a lot sooner than his first 2006 start for Houston of June 22, which followed a few minor-league tune-ups. The archrival Red Sox and Clemens' hometown Astros are also interested in Clemens.

The word going around is that while Clemens loved the convenience of home, he also misses the drama of New York. And, whether they know it or not, the Yankees' efforts in trying to trade Johnson could enhance their chances to land Clemens. Beyond the fact that by trading Johnson they would free up dollars, word is that Clemens doesn't particularly like Johnson to the point where he might even prefer to go to Boston or stay in Houston if the Yankees fail to unload The Big Unit.

It was Johnson's offhand comment to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman that he might prefer to play near his Paradise Valley, Ariz., home that provided the impetus to trade talks. Cashman took Johnson's remark as an opportunity to try remake a rotation that has disappointed at playoff time the past few years. The Yankees like Clemens better as an October starter (no surprise considering Johnson's 6.92 postseason ERA as a Yankee vs. Clemens' 3.24) and also see him as a more positive clubhouse influence. The Yankees have not been back to the World Series since Clemens' "retirement'' following the 2003 season.

But first things first, and that means finding a new home for Johnson. To that end, it is believed the Yankees are discussing a couple of potential deals with Arizona. There is some optimism for a deal, but sticking points may remain. One appears to be the compensation package going to the Yankees (and possibly the money going back to Arizona to cover a small portion of Johnson's $16-million salary), and the other is a possible extension for Johnson in Arizona. He is believed to be seeking a one-year extension for about $12 million.

The Yankees have given the Diamondbacks a list of about a half-dozen players and told them that they'd accept any combination of three of them while also agreeing to pay a few million toward Johnson's salary. A lesser package that would still include at least one or two players from that list might still be acceptable if the Diamondbacks absorbed Johnson's full salary.

The Yankees also have talked to the Padres about Johnson, and reliever Scott Linebrink was a target there. However, it appears the focus is on Arizona, which has more prospects than San Diego and provides a greater likelihood of Johnson waiving his no-trade clause.

The Yankees' Arizona A-list list includes young pitchers Micah Owings, Ross Ohlendorf, Dustin Nippert and reliever Luis Vizcaino. A couple other players believed to have been discussed include young pitcher Enrique Gonzalez and young infielder Alberto Gonzalez. The Yankees earlier had requested first baseman Connor Jackson, among other highly-regarded position players, but the Diamondbacks have said they will not include him in any deal and at this point, the talks involve mostly pitchers.

The Diamondbacks, who already owe Johnson deferred monies from his first go-round there, may also want Johnson to defer some of his 2006 salary. And while a one-year extension for Johnson might not be a major hurdle, the whole thing could be held up as he is said to be vacationing in Hawaii.