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'Stros Pitch Deal To Big 'U'

The Houston Astros have made their big pitch to keep free-agent hurler Randy Johnson, but the club disputes a report regarding exactly how much money is on the table.

The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that owner Drayton McLane Jr. and general manager Gerry Hunsicker are believed to have offered a three-year contract between $33 million and $36 million.

The club wouldn't divulge numbers, but Hunsicker on Tuesday railed against the newspaper report, calling the dollar figure "aggressive."

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"We met with him and made a serious offer, but as far as (revealing) the term or dollars involved, it's just not appropriate," said Hunsicker, who acknowledged that any deal would be for more than one year.

In a visit to Johnson's home in Phoenix, the Astros learned that they were on his short list, the Chronicle reported. The Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees and Texas Rangers also are contenders in the Johnson race.

Diamondbacks general manager partner Jerry Colangelo visited Johnson on Sunday, speaking with him, his wife Lisa and his agents, Barry Meister and Alan Nero.

Money wasn't mentioned since such a subject is forbidden suitors other than a player's current club until Thursday. Johnson has filed for free agency and indicated he wants to see what kind of offers await.

Johnson, 35, made $6 million 1998. He's thought to be seeking $10 million or more, which would place him in the salary range of other top pitchers like Pedro Martinez of the Boston ed Sox and Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves.

First baseman Jeff Bagwell currently is the highest paid Astro at $8 million per year.

Johnson posted a 19-11 record with a 3.27 ERA and 329 strikeouts for Seattle and Houston last season and has a career record of 143-79.

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