SAN FRANCISCO — With two recent back surgeries behind him, Randy Johnson is refreshed and focused on being a baseball player again this winter — rather than a pitcher limited to rigorous rehabilitation work, his case the past two offseasons.
The 45-year-old Big Unit has been playing catch for three weeks already — and, now, is busy preparing to join his new San Francisco Giants teammates come the start of spring training in February.
Johnson and San Francisco agreed to an $8 million, one-year contract Friday, giving the Giants one of the deepest starting rotations in baseball with three Cy Young Award winners. Johnson has won five Cy Youngs and is five victories away from No. 300.
“I’m well ahead of schedule than I was the last two offseasons,” Johnson said Saturday during a conference call, noting he plans to be on the 2009 opening day roster. “It will be really nice to be in that position this year. … To some degree I have silenced the critics and shown that I’m healthy.”
The Giants are counting on that. Johnson joins fellow Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum (2008) and Barry Zito (2002) in an intriguing rotation that also features promising right-hander Matt Cain and lefty Jonathan Sanchez. San Francisco becomes the first team with three Cy Young recipients since the 2002 Atlanta Braves with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.
Johnson wanted to stay on the West Coast, and in the NL West if possible, to start his 22nd major league season. The Giants will be his sixth big league team.
“During this process, there was a great deal of interest in me, and that leads me to believe there are some people who still believe in me,” Johnson said. “San Francisco was at the top of my list. I pitched against them three or four times last year and saw the potential they have.”
Johnson, who spent the past two seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, was born in Walnut Creek, Calif., about 30 minutes from the Giants’ waterfront ballpark. He grew up in nearby Livermore.
San Francisco offered several things on Johnson’s wish list: spring training in the Phoenix area, and a chance to stay on the West Coast and in the NL West so he can pitch near his current home in Arizona.
Reds fill hole in CF with Taveras
Willy Taveras and the Cincinnati Reds agreed to a two-year contract Saturday, plugging the team’s hole in center field.
The speedy Taveras is coming off a down season with Colorado. He batted .251 with a paltry .308 on-base percentage in 133 games, though he did lead the major leagues with 68 stolen bases.
“Willy Taveras fills two significant needs for our ballclub, a speed base-stealing threat at the top of the order and superior defense in center field,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said.