Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. is not proceeding as if he must trade Johnson. "We don't have to move any contracts for financial reasons," he said last week. "It's fair to say Randy's salary for next year is already factored into [the payroll]."
But Arizona may need to move Johnson as part of a rebuilding phase and in order to avoid having an unhappy, alienated star on its hands. Rightfielder Danny Bautista, centerfielder Steve Finley and injured first baseman Richie Sexson are free agents at season's end and must be similarly evaluated.
Johnson's relationship with the front office has already cooled. Owner Jerry Colangelo wooed the Big Unit to Arizona after a 97-loss season in 1998, the D-Backs' inaugural year. They won the NL West in three of the next four years and the World Series in 2001. Johnson won the Cy Young Award all four seasons, going 81-27
He said he is surprised that no club official has talked to him in recent weeks about his importance to the franchise or how it plans to contend next season if he remains. Colangelo, on vacation last week in Europe, was scheduled to return on Tuesday.
"I've seen [ Colangelo] once in the last 2� months, and that was when he came down to congratulate me after I got my 4,000th strikeout [on June 29]," Johnson says. "We've had no communication. The same people who came over to my house and recruited me to be a Diamondback, I haven't heard from them. There are other owners, some I know by name. No one has said, 'This is the direction we're going in.' "
Garagiola and Johnson had a pregame chat in the dugout of Dodger Stadium before the Ail-Star break. "He didn't have a lot of answers at the time," Johnson said. "[Garagiola] asked me, 'Would [you want to stay] if we re-signed Richie Sexson?' There are no guarantees. I'm sure Richie is going to have a lot of choices. There's no guarantee that Steve Finley will be back. No guarantee what shape [leftfielder] Luis Gonzalez will be in after [ligament replacement] surgery [on his right elbow, scheduled for Aug. 2]. What will the bullpen look like? What will the rest of the starting pitching look like?
"I can't turn things around by myself. There's no better example of that than this year. We're not drawing any more fans or winning because I'm here. There's no doubt that my leaving here can help the franchise rebuild, because they can get great young players and free up money to sign others. I can only pitch every five days."
Said Gonzalez, "It's not something we talk about with him. I know he's frustrated. We're all frustrated. We're trying our best to score some runs for him. He still goes out there and gives it everything he's got. That's why he's the best in the game."
Johnson lives in a Phoenix suburb with his wife, Lisa, and their four children. He admitted that a trade to the East Coast, which would also mean spending spring training in Florida rather than in Arizona, might prompt him to retire after next season because of the additional time away from home.
The clock ticks. The trade deadline draws near. The Diamondbacks keep losing. The room stays cold and quiet. On July 20, for instance, Johnson threw seven quality innings but lost 3-1 to the San Francisco Giants. It was the sixth time in his eight defeats that Arizona had scored two or fewer runs. The dreariness. The familiar, worn-out responses to the media...it was like the nightly staging of a bad play. At least Johnson's eldest child, eight-year-old Tanner, met him later in the clubhouse, full of joy, with better news.