"You just can't replace a guy like Randy Johnson," team officials said repeatedly.
Now, however, it appears the Diamondbacks have no choice but to trade Johnson and send the five-time Cy Young Award winner exactly where he wants to go -- to the Yankees, where his larger-than-life persona is about to get only that much bigger, along with his wallet.
Johnson, 41, has smartly managed to force the Diamondbacks into a corner and make them deal him to New York. He made it clear he would be happier pitching elsewhere, that a trade was the only thing that could make him happy. The Diamondbacks, for reasons understandable but worrisome as well, obliged without dissent.
They didn't help their bargaining position, either, when one of their owners came out and said they would make sure a deal of some sort was in place by the end of the year. Ken Kendrick said it was a timeline preferred by Johnson, and, thus far, it looks as if the Big Unit is getting his way at every turn.
The Diamondbacks were on the verge of completing a deal that would bring them starting pitcher Javier Vazquez, left-handed reliever Brad Halsey and a minor league prospect, catcher Dioner Navarro, along with $9 million.
On the surface, the trade just doesn't make sense for Arizona, if that's where it, indeed, starts and ends in return for Johnson, the most dominating left-hander in the majors, possibly in history. For starters, Vazquez has the authority in his contract to request and receive a trade of his own after the 2005 season -- and if he's supposed to be the central figure in the deal for Johnson, how does that help make the trade look palatable?
As for Halsey, sure, he could help Arizona's bullpen, but it's the starting rotation that needs help first. Vazquez might not even be able to do that if he's unhappy, unwilling or hurt, as some have suggested. Navarro, meanwhile, would be better suited in L.A. than Arizona, where the Diamondbacks already have a pair of hot-shot young catchers they can't wait to play in Koyie Hill, whom they acquired from the Dodgers, and Chris Snyder.
OK, so the $9 million helps, if only to help pay for part of Vazquez's enormous salary. But put it all together, and is Arizona really helping itself, or just placating Johnson, and trying to wrap up the whole "I-want-out" mess with Randy in a neat little package and striking whatever deal it can simply to move on and avoid certain distractions if the big fella doesn't get his way?
The Diamondbacks squawked about getting "fair-market value" for Johnson all along, but if this deal comes to fruition, as it appears, it looks as if they missed the boat and fell right in the water.
--Jerry Colangelo, the Diamondbacks' former chairman and CEO who helped bring major league baseball to Phoenix, underwent successful prostrate cancer surgery at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York on Dec. 30. Colangelo, 65, was diagnosed a month ago.
--Former major leaguers Will Clark and Matt Williams will be working with the Diamondbacks as part-time coaches during spring training, and it could lead to larger roles with the organization by season's end.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- Millions, in dollars, the Diamondbacks would receive from the Yankees for Randy Johnson, in addition to acquiring pitchers Javier Vazquez and Brad Halsey, and minor leaguer Dioner Navarro.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Aside from confirming that we continue to talk with the Yankees, we are not confirming any of this other stuff that's out there." -- Diamondbacks GM Joe Garagiola Jr., on the multiple scenarios that have involved sending Randy Johnson to the New York Yankees, including erroneous reports that Arizona already has a deal in place to ship Javier Vazquez to another team once it lands him from the Yankees.
SS Royce Clayton signed a one-year deal worth $1.28 million and will be Arizona's everyday starter in 2005. 2B Craig Counsell signed a two-year deal worth $3.1 million and is expected to be the club's starting second baseman next season. C Kelly Stinnett agreed to a minor-league contract. RHP Andrew Good was released. LHP Shane Nance was designated for assignment. 1B Richie Sexson signed with Seattle as a free agent.
ARRIVALS: 3B Troy Glaus (free agent from Anaheim). RHP Russ Ortiz (free agent from Atlanta), SS Royce Clayton (free agent from Colorado), INF Craig Counsell (free agent from Milwaukee), C Kelly Stinnett (free agent from Kansas City).
DEPARTURES: 1B Richie Sexson (free agent, signed with Seattle), RHP Shane Reynolds (released), RHP Matt Mantei (free agent, signed with Boston), RHP Andrew Good (released, signed with Detroit), LHP Shane Nance (non-tendered).
BIGGEST NEEDS: Arizona's starting rotation still is in flux, depending on what happens with LHP Randy Johnson. The addition of RHP Russ Ortiz is a good start, but the team can't stop there. The team was angling for another veteran starter, LHP Shawn Estes, but it doesn't appear he'll be joining the Diamondbacks if the Johnson deal with the Yankees is completed.
FREE AGENTS: RHPs Shane Reynolds, Steve Sparks, Mike Fetters and Scott Service; INFs Greg Colbrunn and Carlos Baerga; OF Danny Bautista.
The Diamondbacks offered arbitration to 1B Richie Sexson, but he left as a free agent and signed with Seattle.
IN LIMBO: LHP Randy Johnson, 1B Shea Hillenbrand, SS Alex Cintron.
Arizona had an agreement to trade Johnson to the Yankees. With Glaus joining the lineup, Hillenbrand could be dealt. Cintron spent the last six weeks of the season at second base and will compete with Counsell there now that Clayton has been signed to play short.
MEDICAL WATCH: LF Luis Gonzalez, who underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right throwing elbow, will begin throwing around Christmas to test his rebuilt arm. C/INF Robby Hammock was scheduled to meet with surgeons who operated on his left knee in spring training to see if another surgery is necessary.