Monday, January 8, 2007

The Final Johnson Post

For a final breakdown of the Unit deal it is important to quickly look at all of the facts.

Johnson is 43 years old, will turn 44 during next season, and had a serious surgical procedure done just a few months ago. Following what was a very productive 2005 - considering innings, strikeouts, ERA and wins - the images of a frustrated, defeated Randy began outweighing the dominant one.

Considering Johnson's ERA ballooned to 5.00, his WHIP travelled from 1.12 to 1.24, and his k/9 & k/bb also declined it is amazing the Yankees were able to put up enough runs to give him 17 wins (Unit was first in majors in run support). In his last three years his ERA+ went from 171 to 117 to 88. Was the final months of last season and the resulting 5.00 ERA due solely to an injured back? Maybe only Randy knows this. Maybe no one does.

What became increasingly clear is that Randy Johnson was no longer the Big Unit. Even if it were the 1990s, he may have never been able to completely adapt to New York. At age 43 (as opposed to 33), the entire New York stigma only produced another thorn synergizing a deteriorating performance level.

Most probably, he will not be ready when Spring training rolls around. I do believe he can still be a very productive pitcher, but he must be somewhere he wants to be at. He must pitch in the National League. He must be healthy after recovering from back-surgery. And he must have run-support. All of these variables are very possible which means there is good reason for Arizona to believe bringing him back is a wise move: both at the ticket-office and in the record books.

As for the Yankees, the trade also made a great deal of sense. But they are not bulletproof as far as Randy's banishment. His 200+ innings need to be replaced, and with a rotation currently relying on "Glass-Man" Pavano as an intricate cog, there is cause for alarm. Will Pavano be traded if he produces an impressive Spring? That depends on whether Clemens can be had, Kei Igawa shows he can pitch or a blockbuster trade for a starter is - or is not - available.

Yes Cashman has created a bounty of young arms with which to trade, promote or plug holes with, but prospects are called prospects for a reason. If they were sure things they would never be moved for old, grumpy, pitchers.

From "Pros·pect - something expected; a possibility."

It's possible that of the four players received in the deal that none of them end up becoming successful in the Bronx. Luis Vizcaino seems to be a very solid bullpen addition but Brandon Medders was the Yankees' first choice. Steven Jackson has a good sinking fastball and supposedly plus slider, but he lacks the polish or control that is needed to become a very strong prospect. The first reports I read seemed to have Jackson in the top-prospect mold, but the more I information I came across the less of a stud arm he became. He definitely has upside. He has been praised by many as mentally tough, but he is essentially a work in progress.

Alberto Gonzalez has a major league glove right now and could provide a good utility infielder option a couple years from now, but his hitting ability is unknown to unimpressive by most accounts. He hit .290 last year in 129 AA games with 6 homers and 50 rbi. There is not much to work with in order to predict what his ability will be at the plate. Maybe he can become a Marco Scutaro type who flashes a great glove, and although lite with the bat, is able to come through in big situations. This is an unknown and probably unfounded comparison, but next year's minor league season will tell us for sure.

The Yankees inability to bring Micah Owings in the deal means that the emphasis of the trade falls on Ross Ohlendorf's shoulders. Initially, the deal would reportedly include Ohlendorf, Owings and maybe Medders. In retrospect, this was an unrealistic swap, but one would have hoped that Owings would be a part of the deal in some capacity. When Ohlendorf became the only true high-end prospect involved with the deal, it is fair to say that the DBacks came away with what seems to be a relatively fair deal.

However, if Ohlendorf can summon the Princeton smarts, "Wang-like sinker" and pinpoint control he has been hailed for, the trade may well be a big-time Yankees success. After all, who knows if Ohlendorf will ever take the field in pinstripes. It is very possible that a lights-out campaign at Scranton Wilkes-Barre may result in becoming a part of a big time trade and not part of a Yankees rotation.

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