Bernie Williams, arguably baseball's most coveted free agent, spent the afternoon with Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo Wednesday and indicated the ambitious young team is a strong contender for his services.
"I'm very impressed, very impressed," Williams said outside Bank One Ballpark. "It's a great start. We have a lot of things out in the open -- the way he felt and the way we felt."
"To tell you the truth, I'd be a fool not to look around more and see what's available out there, but this is pretty good right now."
The center fielder for the World Series champion New York Yankees said he will take his time before choosing a team, and would not rule out a return to New York.
"There's no real urgency to have this done in a hurry," Williams said. "I've worked very hard in my career to get to this point and I'm not going to make any sudden decisions."
Williams wants a seven-year deal in the $100 million neighborhood, an awfully high price for a team that would be entering only its second season. But Colangelo has a reputation for aggressive personnel decisions, both with the Diamondbacks and with his Phoenix Suns of the NBA.
Another expensive free agent, Randy Johnson, met with Colangelo and manager Buck Showalter on Tuesday.
Colangelo said the meeting with Williams was a good get-acquainted session.
"What we can do is say, `Look, here's who we are. Here's what we have to offer,"' Colangelo said. "I think we compete with anyone in baseball in terms of a city, in terms of a facility, in terms of what we have as an organization."
The Diamondbacks, with the third-worst record in baseball in their expansion season, would seem a major comedown for a player who just won the AL batting championship and a World Series. Colangelo is trying to persuade Williams that this team will improve quickly.
"What we are is a one-year expansion team and we need to catch up with a lot of people," Colangelo said. "That's a big factor - competitiveness or lack of same. We are commtted. We're going to do the things to become competitive sooner rather than later."
Asked why he is considering the Diamondbacks, Williams pointed to the ballpark, the city, the team's vow to improve and the presence of Showalter, who had a close relationship with the center fielder as manager of the Yankees.
"It would have a lot to do with the relationship I've had in the past with the coaching staff and the manager, the commitment that I've seen here to make this a better team over the years," Williams said. "It's a great place to live, certainly a great place to raise my family. Sometimes you need a change of scenery."
Showalter said his impact on Williams' decision probably has been overblown.
"We respect the fact that he's got some decisions to make," Showalter said. "If I was in his shoes, or was his agent, I'd be hoping that he'd take a look at all possible avenues. We think we have a lot to offer, and we wanted to make that apparent today. I think we have."
Williams' agent, Scott Boras, who also attended Wednesday's session, has a good relationship with Colangelo based on the lucrative deals Boras' clients Jay Bell and Andy Benes signed with the Diamondbacks a year ago.
"These guys do a dymanic job," Boras said. "These are some of the premier facilities in baseball, and these people understand players."
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