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Big Unit Signs With D'Backs

Randy Johnson, the most accomplished pitcher among this year's free agents, agreed Monday to a $53 million, four-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Johnson, a left-hander who causes so much fear among some left-handed hitters that they take themselves out of games he pitches, also had been considering offers from the Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers.

While there was no immediate announcement of the deal, SportsLine Radio confirmed the signing through a team official. The Diamondbacks planned to announce it later Monday, the source said.

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By signing with Arizona, Johnson will be able to commute to half his games each season. He lives in Glendale, a comfortable driving distance from Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.

"For us, it's obvious there are family issues, and he's pleased to spend his life in the Valley for hopefully the rest of his baseball life,'' Johnson's agent, Barry Meister, told radio station KMVP in Phoenix. "But also from the top, we have a commitment that the Diamondbacks are going to do what it takes to get to the World Series and we believe that."

The average annual value of his new contract is $13.25 million, the second-highest in baseball behind the $13.33 million Mo Vaughn will get under the $80 million, six-year contract he agreed to Wednesday with Anaheim.

Johnson, 5, was 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 84 1-3 innings this year for the Houston Astros, who acquired him from Seattle on July 31. Unhappy with the Mariners after they refused to give him a contract extension after the 1997 season, Johnson had asked for a trade.

When Seattle refused, he was grumpy all through spring training and the first half of the season, going 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA before Seattle dealt him just minutes before the trade deadline.

Houston had hoped to re-sign him but dropped out of the bidding Tuesday after becoming convinced it would take a four-year contract to keep Johnson.

In all, he struck out 329 this season, leading the major leagues. Johnson has a 143-79 career record, striking out 2,329 in 1,978 1-3 innings. He joins an Arizona team that hopes to improve drastically from 1998, when the Diamondbacks went 65-97 in their initial season, finishing last in the NL West, 33 games behind the division-winning San Diego Padres.

Since the end of the season, Arizona has signed Todd Stottlmyre to a $32 million, four-year contract and Armando Reynoso to a $5.5 million, two-year deal. The Diamondbacks head to spring training with a rotation of Johnson, Andy Benes, Stottlemyre, Reynoso and Brian Anderson.

Arizona also signed reliever Greg Swindell to a $5.7 million, two-year contract and first baseman Greg Colbrunn to a $1.8 million, two-year deal.

© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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