Johnson pushes for decision

NEW YORK -- Will today be the last time Randy Johnson puts on a Diamondbacks uniform? Of all the scenarios hatched during the Johnson vigil, there's a new, wild one adrift: The Big Unit has asked Arizona to move up the trade deadline by three days -- to today -- so he can properly prepare for his next start Friday, wherever it might be.

D-Backs general manager Joe Garagiola is trying to accommodate Johnson, choosing between three possible endings to baseball's most compelling soap opera. The first would be to deal Johnson to the Yankees. The second would be to force Johnson to back down and accept a deal to Angels. The third would be letting the deadline pass and waiting until the offseason, when more teams would presumably be interested and capable of acquiring Johnson.

For now, the Yankees are still the front-runners, their need for the left-hander bordering on desperation after Orlando Hernandez left Tuesday's game against Toronto with a strained left hamstring. With Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown both already injured, the Yankees' urgency has compelled them to unveil their most trusty weapon -- money.

According to Newsday, the Yankees would be willing to assume the contracts of little-used Roberto Alomar and the injured Matt Mantei, totaling nearly $8 million, and then eventually release them both. That's on top of the $22 million Johnson is owed through 2005, which the Yankees could absorb without blinking.

In addition, the Bombers are said to be choreographing a three-way deal, either with the Padres or Marlins, as a way of collecting more prospects.

Whether all of this can be completed before the passing of the artificial deadline is, while not impossible, highly unlikely. The Diamondbacks are under no pressure to make any deal -- today, or by Saturday's official cutoff date. In fact, one baseball executive whose team has been on the sidelines during the pursuit of the Big Unit believes Arizona may let the deadline pass altogether and renew talks during the winter.

That scenario would be more likely if Johnson were to reject a deal to the Angels. For now, he's "totally fixated" on the Yankees, according to one person familiar with his thinking. And through his agent, Barry Meister, the Big Unit has hinted of making life uncomfortable for all parties involved if he's still in the D-Backs clubhouse after 4 p.m. on Saturday, when the deadline expires.

But Arizona is just as committed to this high-stakes game of chicken. The D-Backs believe they -- not Johnson -- have greater leverage. According to the Newark Star-Ledger, the friction between Meister and Garagiola turned ugly on Monday, when a conversation between the two went like this:

"If you don't trade him to the Yankees, you're going to have one unhappy player," Meister said.

"And how would I tell the difference?" Garagiola responded.

That's why the Angels, who have more prospects to offer than the Yankees, still have Garagiola's ear. At the 11th hour, the D-Backs could come to Johnson with a take-it-or-leave ultimatum: accept the deal with Anaheim that benefits everyone, or else there's no deal.

The person who has spoken with Johnson recently believed that, backed into such a corner, the pitcher would accept a trade to the Angels. His desire to escape last-place in the NL West is greater than his fantasy of pitching in Yankee pinstripes.

Either way, time is running out. Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo returned Monday night from a vacation in Italy and planned to speak to the franchise's limited partners, hoping to gain a consensus on Johnson's future. From a financial standpoint, the Yankees' offer must surely be tempting, considering the D-Backs lost $60 million last year and are bleeding again in 2004. In one year they've dropped from eighth to 15th in major league attendance, with the free-fall likely to accelerate as the losing continues.

Even Johnson's star power has failed to stir the fans. In what could've been his final start for the Diamondbacks on Sunday, when he struck out 14 Rockies in eight innings, fewer than 30,000 were in the stands. Such top-to-bottom lethargy is the reason Johnson has been looking for the door, and towards the Yankees in particular.

For now, the Yankees are still waiting for a phone call from the D-Backs. None has been placed. On Tuesday, the Bombers' attention was diverted to the ailing Jason Giambi, who's awaiting the results of tests that could determine whether he'll be out for the rest of the season.

If so, the Yankees would be saddled with the extra chore of finding a backup to Tony Clark, currently their only other bona fide first baseman. Even as Giambi's mystery illness continues to haunt the Yankees, however, they remained focused on Johnson. With the deadline only days -- and possibly just hours -- away, everyone involved can at least agree on this much.

A verdict is almost here.

Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.