Wednesday, June 3, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Baseball / Randy Johnson Watch -- Mariners Won't Deal Their Ace -- Trade With Dodgers Falls Apart; Angels Will Face Big Unit Tonight

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

A week of swirling trade rumors involving Randy Johnson ended not with the departure of the Big Unit, but with the surprising announcement by Mariner management that he would remain with the club.

On the eighth anniversary of Johnson's 1990 no-hitter against Detroit, the Mariners pulled out of trade talks with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and team President Chuck Armstrong issued the following statement:

"Continuing speculation about unsubstantiated rumors of a trade for Randy Johnson has prompted this clarification of his status with the Seattle Mariners. Randy Johnson is a valued pitcher for the Mariners who is under contract for the balance of the 1998 season. Randy will pitch for the Mariners throughout this season. Accordingly, we have no plans to trade Randy Johnson."

Johnson, who has made no secret of his desire to get out of Seattle, apparently was not happy to hear what Armstrong had to say.

"I guess you'd say that Randy is disappointed," Barry Meister, an agent for Johnson, said this morning.

But Meister did say he hoped Johnson could set aside everything going on off the field each time he walks on the field. Johnson was scheduled to pitch tonight against the Angels at the Kingdome.

"I talked to him and he said he was going to do his best to focus on his job, pitching well."

The twist to recent events was as much news to Johnson as to everyone else. When the Mariners boarded their charter flight home after yesterday's 9-8 loss in Baltimore, his status was unclear. Johnson, in fact, asked a reporter in the clubhouse after the game if he knew anything.

The Mariners said they would have no further comment on Johnson's situation, which has been in limbo since November, when the club announced it would not pursue an extension of his contract, which expires after the season. Johnson has sought a trade ever since.

It was not known whether the organization simply got cold feet, or if it didn't like the package offered by the Dodgers, who refused to add pitcher Darren Dreifort in the deal.

"Through no fault of his own, Randy was the center of a three-ring circus for the past 10 days," Meister said. "He and I are both frustrated by all the media speculation, all the leaks out of Los Angeles, then the Mariners coming out and saying, `yeah, we are talking trade for Randy, trying to make our ballclub better.'

"Randy Johnson should not have had to spend 10 days like this."

Before he left Baltimore, fearing the end of Johnson's glorious reign with Seattle might be at hand, Ken Griffey Jr. said, "Any day you lose a player like Randy is going to be a bad day."

But that day didn't come, despite a report from an internet news service in the afternoon that a deal had been completed sending pitcher Ismael Valdes and utility player Wilton Guerrero to Seattle for Johnson.

Dodger General Manager Fred Claire told reporters in Los Angeles he gave Mariner GM Woody Woodward his final offer Monday - presumably, Valdes and Guerrero - and gave Woodward until noon yesterday to respond.

By the deadline, Claire said he had not heard from Woodward, and faxed him saying the Dodger offer was off the table but that Woodward could continue the discussion.

Later, Claire said he received a message from Woodward that the Mariners had decided not to trade Johnson. Then Armstrong's statement was released.

"We're trying to set his mind at ease and put an end to all the rumor and speculation," a Mariner source said about Johnson.

But it's a big question how much at ease Johnson will be with the prospect of staying in Seattle all season. Admittedly distracted by questions over his future, Johnson got off to a rocky start this year, going 3-3 with a 6.83 earned-run-average in his first 10 starts.

After a particularly poor outing against Texas in which Johnson seemed to lack concentration, he met with Manager Lou Piniella and was told that the best way to improve his trade value was to pitch well.

In his past two starts, correlating with the rise of the rampant Dodger rumors, Johnson overpowered the Tampa Bay Devil Rays twice, allowing three runs and 10 hits over 17 innings in those victories, and striking out 25.

The Angels have a right to be wary of the Big Unit tonight. Johnson has a 13-5 career record and a 2.69 ERA against them.

"It would be great," Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina told the Los Angeles Times, "to get him out of the league."

For now, it appears Johnson isn't going anywhere.

Seattle Times staff reporter Bob Finnigan contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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