D-backs introduce familiar face
Johnson happy to be back in Arizona, chasing 300 wins
PHOENIX -- The uniform colors may have changed, but Randy Johnson slipped comfortably back into his No. 51 jersey on Tuesday afternoon as the D-backs' trade with the Yankees became official.
"I'm very excited to be back and to continue my career where I really enjoyed playing," Johnson said.
The Big Unit was the ace of Arizona's staff from 1999-2004 before being dealt to New York, where he was 34-19 over two seasons. Last week, the D-backs and Yankees agreed on a trade that would send Johnson and $2 million to Arizona in exchange for reliever Luis Vizcaino and Minor Leaguers Ross Ohlendorf, Steven Jackson and Alberto Gonzalez.
The best moments of Johnson's 19-year career came during his tenure in the desert. The left-hander won four Cy Young Awards (1999-2002) and won three games during the 2001 World Series to earn co-MVP honors. It also was with the D-backs that he pitched a perfect game when he shut down the Braves in May 2004.
"We've taken care of our future, we've developed our young players, we've worked hard to put our rotation together," D-backs general manager Josh Byrnes said. "And to get Randy Johnson in that rotation with another Cy Young Award winner [Brandon Webb] and another World Series MVP [Livan Hernandez], we can't wait to get started. As much as Randy's accomplished here, we're all excited about 2007 and 2008 and what we can accomplish then and beyond."
In his first season in the Big Apple, Johnson was 17-8 with a 3.79 ERA. Last year he once again won 17 games, but he lost 11 and saw his ERA rise to 5.00. After the season, he had surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back.
The D-backs were convinced, after examining his medical records and putting him through a physical, that Johnson likely would be better in 2007 now that his back finally would be healthy.
Johnson, who uses any slight -- real or imagined -- as motivation, is well aware of what some of the pundits were saying after he struggled at times last year.
"I've always had to defend myself," Johnson said. "So when I walk around with a chip on my shoulder, it's because it's always been an uphill battle. I've always had to prove my worth, you would say -- much like now. A lot of people say my career is over -- I had a 5.00 ERA. Well, I was out there pitching with a bad back for most of the year. Most people might not choose to do that, but that's the kind of person I am: an overpaid athlete that wants to give something back. I know it sounds kind of corny, but that's where I'm at."
Though he won 34 games and helped the Yankees to two American League East crowns during his time there, expectations for Johnson were even higher. But while his tenure there will be remembered by some in part for a couple of run-ins with the media as well as early exits from the postseason, Johnson still is thankful for the experience.
"I didn't buy into this whole theory that there's something that goes on there, as Curt [Schilling] said, mystique and all this other stuff," Johnson said. "The Yankees are the greatest franchise in sports history. I enjoyed my time there. I enjoyed the fans. I enjoyed playing with some of the greatest players to play the game today.
"I wouldn't change a thing. I think those are life experiences that make a man. I made some mistakes there and fessed up to the mistakes I made."
Once the ace of the D-backs staff, Johnson will not be asked to shoulder that load this time around. Webb, who captured last year's National League Cy Young Award, will be the Opening Day starter, and depending on his health, Johnson could wind up in the No. 2 slot in the rotation.
Webb, Johnson, Hernandez and Doug Davis all have track records of throwing 200-plus innings, which should take a lot of pressure off the Arizona bullpen next season.
"Being a manager, I'm looking to win and I'm looking to win now," D-backs skipper Bob Melvin said. "And we feel like [adding Johnson] increases our chance to win, and that's the bottom line for me. We think the surgery will help him be more consistent and feel better each and every time out on the mound."
Johnson, who is scheduled to begin playing catch next week and is hoping to be ready for the start of the regular season, said only time will tell when he's able to take the mound again.
The D-backs and Johnson agreed on a two-year contract that will pay Johnson $26 million spread out over the next few years. Johnson will get a $12 million signing bonus, with $3.5 million paid this year, $500,000 in 2008 and $4 million in 2009 and 2010. That leaves Johnson with salaries of $4 million in 2007 and $10 million in 2008.
The two-year deal was the D-backs' idea. Johnson had one year remaining on his deal with the Yankees that would have paid him $16 million in 2007. With 280 career victories, the D-backs would like to see Johnson reach the 300-win milestone in an Arizona uniform.
"I think the Diamondbacks were gracious enough to give me an extension," said Johnson, who is third all-time in strikeouts with 4,544. "To win 300 games, I never really thought it would be something that would be a viable option for me, because I didn't know how healthy I'd be or how many games I'd win.
"I think when you get close to something like that, you'd obviously like to do it -- I'm not going to kid you -- but I wouldn't extend my career beyond  to do it."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.