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Big payday for Unit

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Posted: Monday, March 24, 2003 10:39 pm | Updated: 12:58 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

The Diamondbacks had no qualms about giving someone who turns 40 on Sept. 10 the richest pitching contract in baseball history. After all, Randy Johnson has the past four National League Cy Young Awards on his mantel.

“If you continue to say I'm old,” Johnson said Monday after signing a two-year, $33 million contract extension, “eventually you're going to be right.”

Not yet, though.

The $16.5 million average for the extension exceeds the average salaries of Mike Hampton ($15.125 million), Kevin Brown ($15 million), Greg Maddux ($14.75 million), Mike Mussina ($14.75 million) and Pedro Martinez ($12.5 million).

But no one can dispute that Johnson is the top pitcher in the game.

“If you look at what he's done over the past 10 years,” Nolan Ryan, the all-time strikeout leader and a mentor to Johnson, recently said, “you'd be hard-pressed to go back in history and find anybody who has been as dominant. I thought Sandy Koufax was as dominant as anybody for a six-to-eight-year period. Randy has certainly equaled that or surpassed that.”

With an 81-27 record, 2.48 ERA and 1,417 strikeouts in four seasons with the D-Backs, Johnson now ranks fourth all-time in career strikeouts (3,746). Beside the four straight Cy Young Awards, he was co-MVP of the 2001 World Series.

“He thinks he's going to pitch forever or close to it,” D-Backs managing general partner Jerry Colangelo said. “And I wouldn't deny him what he thinks because he has shown that he's capable of unbelievable things. So do I think there's a risk involved? No I don't.

“I feel very comfortable, as comfortable as I did four years ago when he got his first (Arizona) contract.”

The comfort came from Johnson's work ethic and unprecedented accomplishments over the past four seasons.

“He wants to be the best,” manager Bob Brenly said. “He is the best. And he wants to stay the best.”

The extension pays Johnson $16 million in 2004 and 2005, with a $1 million personal-services contract and $6 million deferred each season. He will earn a $1 million bonus for any future Cy Young Awards. Other bonuses include $50,000 for being named an All-Star or being named league championship series MVP and $100,000 for World Series MVP.

Johnson pledged a $1 million contribution to an Arizona charity to be specified later.

Arizona now has 10 players under contract for next season at a total of $65,267,500 — with $36.25 million committed to Johnson, Curt Schilling and Luis Gonzalez alone. But Colangelo said the 2004 payroll will still be $85 million or less.

The D-Backs started working with agents Alan Nero and Barry Meister in early December, and negotiations picked up in mid-February. Johnson, whose pitching suffered in 1998 with the distraction of impending free agency, said he had no desire to look elsewhere and was glad to get this deal done before the season begins.

“I have nothing to worry about,” said Johnson, who will make $15 million this year, bringing his original deal to $64.4 million over five seasons ($12.88 million per year).

“We're talking here about one of the greatest pitchers of all time,” Colangelo said. “It's been a real pleasure for our fans and (it's) a joy to say they're going to be able to see him continue on.”

Monday's Opening Day start will be Johnson's 10th, second among active pitchers to Roger Clemens (slated for his 12th).

Johnson needs 1,968 strikeouts to catch Ryan for the all-time strikeout title. That would take six more seasons if Johnson continues at his pace of the past four. Ryan and Johnson are the only pitchers with six 300-strikeout seasons, and Johnson's current streak of five straight such seasons is unprecedented.

But some believe Johnson's goal is to match Ryan's record of 215 games with 10 or more strikeouts. Johnson has 186 such games — 84 since joining the Diamondbacks — and thus is within striking distance.

Publicly, though, Johnson focuses only on team goals. And he is already lobbying for the next extension.

“I felt comfortable enough to say that I could extend my career out two more years beyond this,” he said. “and then evaluate my position and the organization's position and see where we're at.”

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