Browsing Archive December, 2006

Gamer: Follow Up

Since I have nothing better to do in this post-Zito Hot Stove season, I’ve researched some previous World Champions and identified the “gamers” on those clubs.

If you read this blog frequently, you know I’m not much for analyzing Win Shares, ZiPS projections, PECOTA cards, and other hard-core baseball stats. MetsGeek covers that stuff in fine detail — and they do a wonderful job at that.

Being more of an “old school” baseball guy, I tend to look at intangibles and other immeasurables (though the statheads have interesting points as well).

Maybe it’s because I hate math, or am too lazy to try and understand SABRmetrics. It’s all too concrete and final … I like opinions that have arguments attached. Makes for a more interesting offseason.

As mentioned in the earlier post, a “gamer” is a guy who plays with extreme passion, and visibly does everything he has to do to win the game. In many cases, he is an overachiever, but is occasionally a star. Often he’s called “pesky”, or a “scrapper”, and opponents may hate him. He’s usually vocal — both in the clubhouse and with opponents — and may sometimes get in trouble for his mouth. He plays the game hard: gets dirty, plays hurt, fights, crawls, scratches, runs into walls, and takes out the DP pivotman. He is also almost always fundamentally sound in all areas of the game, including bunting and/or hit-and-run, is a solid if not excellent fielder, and runs the bases well regardless of speed. He’s willing to give himself up for the team, such as playing out of position or poking a grounder to the right side to move the runner from second to third. He’s the guy you have faith in to execute a suicide squeeze in the bottom of the ninth, and to somehow come up with the big hit in the World Series. He’s the guy whose heart you’d never question, not for a second.

The Mets have some great athletes on their team, but maybe not enough gamers. Carlos Beltran is a fine example of a near superstar who might not be considered a gamer. Have you ever seen him crash into a wall for a ball (the Cameron accident doesn’t count)? Seen blood on his pants? Would you trust him to bunt a guy over?

Carlos Delgado might be there, especially after coming up big in the postseason. David Wright is getting there, but his flop in the postseason sent him backward in the gamer class. Shawn Green used to be there, when he was younger, but his skills are not what they used to be. Jose Reyes? Another fine talent, not really a gamer … but maybe someday. Paul LoDuca, and, to a degree, Endy Chavez, are the only legitimate, down and dirty gamers the Mets play on a regular basis. They could use at least one, if not more, of these type of players, if they want to go to a World Series.

Herewith are examples of “gamers” from previous World Series Champions … with the hopes that the Mets can find one or two more of these gritty types to fill their roster in 2007.

2006 Cardinals
David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen. To a degree, Scott Spiezio, So Taguchi.

2005 White Sox
Joe Crede, AJ Pierzynski, Aaron Rowand. Maybe Tadahito Iguchi.

2004 Red Sox
Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Mark Bellhorn.

2003 Marlins
Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Lowell. Maybe you throw Juan Pierre or Luis Castillo in there.

2002 Angels
Bengie Molina, David Eckstein, Darin Erstad, Adam Kennedy, Scott Spiezio.

2001 Diamondbacks
Mark Grace, Jay Bell, Steve Finley, Matt Williams.

2000 Yankees
Scott Brosius, Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Chuck Knoblauch

1986 Mets
Ray Knight, Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman. You could also put Mookie Wilson, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter in there.

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates
Tim Foli, Phil Garner, Willie Stargell. Dave Parker, Lee Lacy, and Ed Ott were close.

1978 Yankees
Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Lou Piniella. To a lesser degree, Brian Doyle.

1976 Reds
Pete Rose, Johnny Bench

1973 A’s
Sal Bando, Gene Tenace. To a lesser degree, Joe Rudi and Bert Campaneris.

1969 Mets
Buddy Harrelson, Tommie Agee, Jerry Grote.

Now, surely there have been World Champions that didn’t have a David Eckstein, Scott Brosius, or Ray Knight — but those teams seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

And while it’s true that pitching wins, consider the ’79 Pirates, who did not have a 15-game winner on their staff (John Candelaria led the team with 14 wins). That may not seem like a big deal today, but back in the late 70s, it was routine for a first-place team to have at least one 20-game winner, if not two. The 1976 Reds were similar, with only one 15-game winner — but they also had an unbelievable offense headed by Bench, Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and George Foster.

The 2007 Mets will have a strong offense, though not one that compares with the Big Red Machine. In fact, it’s more similar to the ’79 Pirates — a mix of of hard-hitting veterans with good speed, adequate defense, and strong fundamentals.
Those Pirates won 98 games before beating a strong Orioles club. They had the “We are Family” thing going on, led by Pops Stargell, and reinforced by the scrappy play of the likes of Garner and Foli. The Mets could have similar success in 2007, but rather than giving up the farm for a frontline pitcher, maybe all they need is to find an inexpensive, overachieving second baseman or outfielder with unquestionable heart. Though a less glamorous move, in the end it might be more impactful.

Maybe I’m nuts, but perhaps the Mets should have made an under-the-radar run for Craig Counsell, Darin Erstad, or someone else of that ilk, while everyone was focused on Barry Zito.


What Baseball Writer to Trust

Matt Cerrone brought up a good question and poll at MetsBlog: Who Do you Trust in the Media?

Personally, I trust no one, and lately have zero faith in the traditional newspaper journalists-turned-web columnists. The immediate impact of the internet has a lot to do with this … guys like Jon Heyman had a set deadline for years, often giving him hours or even days to confirm a rumor or legitimize a “source” while they worked for the Holy Grail of “breaking a story”. Now all of a sudden he’s writing for a medium that wants information five minutes ago, and he doesn’t have the time nor means to confirm information.

I use Heyman as an example because he’s the most recent newspaper guy now trying to make it on the internet. As with the others —Murray Chass, Buster Olney, Peter Gammons, to name a few — Heyman is clinging to the journalistic dreams of Peter “Scoop” Brady (remember that Brady Bunch episode?). Between the “reliable, unidentified sources” and the blatant personal speculation (a.k.a., “wild guesses”), Heyman had turned into one of the most unreliable sources since moving to a few months back.

Further, instead of backtracking or correcting a rumor, he tends to re-state it over and over, much like a radio driveler will talk louder to force a point. Prime example: Heyman’s insistence that the Yankees were shopping Randy Johnson to clear up dough for Zito — could his “sources” have been more wrong?

Heyman’s not the only one, of course, and we don’t mean to beat up on him — most of the old newspaper guys are having a hard time with this newfangled internet thing that all the young whippersnappers are using. Eventually Heyman, and the others, will learn to keep moving forward, roll with the punches, and present their personal guesses and rumors as “speculation”, rather than rushing to the keys to be the first one to break the story.

I guess what they don’t understand is that in the end, we the reader don’t really care who broke the story, so long as we get the facts straight. And it doesn’t matter if you’re first to get your story to the screen, because within five minutes over a thousand other internet sources will be breaking the same story, often WITHOUT a link and credit to your original post. Even if there is a hyperlink, how many people are going to rush to hear it from the original source, when the story is right in front of them on their favorite website, blog, or RSS reader?

Not sure about you, but I don’t rush to to see if Buster Olney has a juicy rumor, because I know if anything is brewing, I’ll read it on one of my RSS feeds or find it on MetsBlog or MLBTradeRumors. Sure, I may eventually get to Olney’s column, assuming it’s not one of those “INSIDER” articles — another ridiculous concept. It’s not like the old days, when you might decide whether to purchase a Daily News, Post, or Times for your subway ride — so whoever you trusted got your 35 cents. Today, we can read all three, plus every major newspaper in the world, in a matter of minutes online — for free. We’ll download everything we want automatically onto our Palm Pilots or laptops to read whenever. If I can’t read Olney’s article because it’s “for INSIDERS”, and therefore requires the purchase of an online subscription, I’ll simply find someone else online who is telling me the same story, for free. Sorry, but I can wait the ten minutes for the breaking news to reach across the globe. I don’t need to pay $84 per year to get news faster than that — especially when the “IN” story turns out not to be a scoop but someone guessing that the Yankees might be clearing payroll to go after Barry Zito.


Mets Need a Gamer

Let’s not think about the starting rotation for a moment — it’s too depressing and stressful right now. Instead, re-focus on another missing piece of the Mets roster: a gamer.

The Mets came within one swing of the bat from the World Series. Ironically, it was not the pitching that kept them out, but the hitting. Unfortunately, hitting will always be a crapshoot — the 2006 New York Yankees a prime example. But there was one more element that the Mets missed: another “gamer”.

A “gamer” is a guy like Tim Foli or Phil Garner on the old Pittsburgh Pirates teams of the late 1970s. Bill Buckner was a gamer, despite his folly in the 1986 Series. Or Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius from the championship Yankee teams of the late 1990s. These are guys that fight, kick, scream, break, and bleed in order to win. They play with sheer passion, and singlehandedly fire up a team. Sometimes they’re relatively untalented guys who overachieve, like a David Eckstein, and sometimes their talent equals their grit — such as a George Brett or Don Mattingly.

The Mets had a few gamers in 2006. Paul LoDuca was the most visible one, and Endy Chavez was close. David Wright looks like he might develop into one, but didn’t quite live up to the label after falling on his face in the postseason. Carlos Delgado is also close, as is — don’t laugh — Shawn Green. Unfortunately for Green, his talents are eroding too quickly to be seen as a gamer in the twilight of his career.

So outside of LoDuca, there isn’t a starting player who fits the mold of the hard playing, sonofabitch-tough scrapper that every World Series Champion inevitably has in their lineup. The fire and passion of a gamer is an intangible that rubs off on the other players and can push the team as a whole to a higher level.

The 2007 Mets need a Ray Knight, a Wally Backman, or a Lenny Dykstra — geez, when you look at that ’86 team it’s loaded with gamers. Again, David Wright might be close, but even still the Mets need to add a little more passion to their starting nine. There doesn’t look to be anyone on the current roster who fits the bill, so they’ll need to obtain new blood.

Earlier in the offseason, there were a few gamers available — most for a song. Craig Counsell, Frank Catalanotto, Adam Kennedy, Mark DeRosa, and Marcus Giles are all Tim Foli – types who would have fit right in at second base (it’s funny how middle infielders tend to be gritty; it must have something to do with hanging in there on double plays). Jim Edmonds is the epitome of a gamer, but may not have been willing to leave the comfort of St. Louis, or move to a corner outfield position. Darin Erstad is still available, but it’s pretty unlikely the Mets are interested in his services. Too bad, he seems just the type to stir things up a bit in the groovy, relaxed Mets dugout.

However, Mark Loretta is still available.

Loretta may not be the epitome of a gamer, but he’s close. In fact, he’s a lot like Paul LoDuca or Ray Knight, when you look at his overall game. First, he is impeccably fundamentally sound — he can hit and run, bunt, run the bases well, is solid defensively, and is a patient, contact hitter. Second, he’ll do whatever is necessary to help the team win. For example, he’s played nearly every position on the field, as needed, and even volunteered to pitch an inning in a laugher while with the Brewers. He’ll rarely overwhelm anyone or make the headlines, but is appreciated over the course of the year for his consistency. He’s pretty tough, doesn’t complain, and willing to play hurt, when necessary.

While Omar Minaya has stated on several occasions that Jose Valentin is the Mets’ starting second baseman, we have to believe that obtaining a guy like Loretta can only help everyone. Valentin’s epiphany last year could well be a swan song as he ventures toward his 40s, and can’t be expected to start 140-150 games and produce numbers similar to last year’s. Plus, everyone is aware of Valentin’s inability to hit lefthanders — something that’s been an issue his entire career, to the point that he once gave up batting righthanded altogether. Adding a righthanded bat such as Loretta’s in a platoon situation makes perfect sense — not to mention the fact that Loretta can also back up all three of the other infield positions, is probably athletic enough to play the outfield as well, and can provide a contact bat off the bench.

Signing Mark Loretta makes so much sense, from so many angles, it seems remarkable the Mets haven’t been more aggressive.

They may have lost out on Barry Zito, Jeff Suppan, and some other big names, but the Mets can end the offseason with a tiny splash that may swell into a tsunami by the time the 2007 season ends. He may not singlehandedly win any games, but Mark Loretta could be the impetus of the ripple effect that pushes the Mets over the edge and into a World Series.


Pitching: Plan B

So the Mets have lost the insanity sweepstakes of 2006. Without landing Barry Zito, the team must make some kind of move, or moves, to provide more depth in their shaky starting rotation. What is their recourse and plan of action as 2007 is about to be rung in?

Here are 10 possibilities:

1. Give Aaron Heilman another shot at the starting rotation, and cross your fingers that Duaner Sanchez will come all the way back. Ambiorix Burgos, Juan Padilla, Jason Standridge, and Jon Adkins can fight it out for the 7th-inning bridge Heilman leaves behind.

2. Package Heilman, Lastings Milledge, and either Mike Pelfrey or Philip Humber in a deal for a front-end starter such as Danny Haren or Dontrelle Willis. (Do not put this package together for a back-end guy like Javy Vazquez.)

3. Package Heilman, Milledge, and a lesser prospect for a back-end AL guy who might benefit from a switch to the NL, such as Joe Blanton or Jake Westbrook.

4. Give Mark Mulder a 2-year, guaranteed deal, and hope he can come back from surgery to be near what he used to be. Use filler guys like Alay Soler and Dave Williams in the rotation until Mulder is ready (around June).

5. Sign Joel Pineiro and pray he can recapture the magic of 2002-2003, when he was not yet 25 years old and seen as a future Cy Young winner.

6. Sign Tony Armas, Jr. and hope he can start 30 games again.

7. Sign Mark Redman to a one-year deal. He just might pull a Jamie Moyer and turn into a remarkably effective lefthander.

8. Trade a bag of balls to Los Angeles for Odalis Perez, and give him a shot to win the #5 job. Could he be worse than Jose Lima, Jeremi Gonzalez, or Victor Zambrano?

9. Lock Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber, and Jason Vargas in a room together for the entire week before pitchers and catchers report. Give them nothing but bread, water, and a TV set that shows clips of Jeremy Bonderman’s and Justin Verlander’s 2006 season. Perhaps one or two of the three will absorb the subliminal message and have a lights-out spring training.

10. Assemble Ron Darling, Tom Seaver, David Cone, and Jerry Koosman in the Port St. Lucie bullpen. Show them a copy of the contracts given to Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, and Barry Zito. Explain that they only have to pitch 5-6 innings per start these days. Have Jerry Grote ready behind the plate while these four men knock each other over to get to the mound. Last man standing gets a crack at the rotation.


Giants Sign Barry Zito

It’s official: the San Francisco Giants owner and GM are on crack. They’ve signed Barry Zito to a 7-year, $144M contract.

Apparently the Giants didn’t notice that they were the only team going over 4-5 years / $75M … so in essence, they bid against themselves.

And apparently they didn’t learn from the many, many, similarly stupid long-term contracts doled out to pitchers that have blown up in owners’ faces since the advent of free-agency — starting with the 10-year deal given to Wayne Garland and most recently the 4-year deal Carl Pavano signed with the Yankees (gee, four years sounds short to anyone outside the Yankee organization).

And apparently they didn’t look at Barry Zito’s stats since 2002, or they may have noticed that Zito has been on a downward spiral since winning the AL Cy Young Award. Most likely, agent Scott Boras left the 2003-2006 stats out of the presentation booklet.

Way to go, Giants! The only team dumb enough to give a convict $21M for another year of public relations damage control (again, when no one else was bidding), proves that the Barry Bonds signing was no fluke — they really ARE that stupid!

As a Mets fan, I may sound bitter at our team not getting its primary free-agent target. However, I’m not so upset about missing out on Zito as I am about the utter lack of responsibility and sheer stupidity on the part of the Giants. It’s understood that MLB is swimming in money right now, and Zito wouldn’t be getting the dough if the cash wasn’t there. What bothers me to no end is the Giants’ lack of negotiation tact, which has so tilted the market that it makes the Chicago Cubs’ behavior resemble sanity, and their willingness to overvalue mediocrity.

Believe me, I understand that the owners have heaps of millions to spend — I just don’t see that kind of money going to a player of Barry Zito’s caliber. If Sandy Koufax is on the market, fine. Roger Clemens, sure. But does anyone really believe Barry Zito is equal to Roger Clemens?

Furthermore, MLB teams had Scott Boras on the ropes, and the Giants not only gave him a standing 8-count, they pulled him back into the ring and gave him a Coke. After losing two battles with the Boston Red Sox, and being unable to initiate a bidding war between the Mets and Rangers, the superagent was suddenly looking penetrable and vulnerable. In one swift stroke, Boras has been empowered once again to obliterate logic from free-agent signings. The King has returned to the building, folks.

Oh, and so much for Barry Zito’s touching article in SF Gate last week, and his desire to hook up with “… an owner who sees eye-to-eye with me in my goal to lead a team to multiple World Series championships”. Take a look, Barry — the Giants are built for 2007, with Mr. Bonds as the centerpiece. That is, if Bonds isn’t thrown in jail by the FBI first. Supposedly, the Giants were “going in a new direction” — presumably away from Bonds — and rebuilding with youth. Well, that idea lasted about five minutes, as the Giants brought back 35-year-olds Ray Durham and Steve Kline, and added “youngsters” such as Bengie Molina, Ryan Klesko, Rich Aurilia, and Dave Roberts. Oh, they do have Matt Cain, and Pedro Feliz won’t turn 32 until the second week of the season, so I suppose they’re built for “multiple championships”.

Good luck and good riddance, Mr. Zito. You probably wouldn’t have been able to handle New York anyway.


Time to Stockpile Pitching

With the Texas Rangers’ recent notification that Barry Zito has until this weekend to accept their contract offer, two things could happen as a result: 1. the real bidding will begin immediately; or 2. Zito and agent Scott Boras will wait as long as necessary for a “mystery team” to emerge.

The latter option is more likely, unless a blockbuster deal occurs quickly. The current bidders against the Mets are the Giants and the Mariners, and neither team is equipped to handle Boras’ demands — at least, not at this time. The Giants first need to finalize the Barry Bonds deal — which supposedly includes deferred funds — and the Mariners need to trade at least one or both of their least tradeable players.

In the meantime, trades and free-agent signings are consuming the few available arms left in a shallow market.

While the Mets are smart to sit back and wait for the Zito thing to run its course, they’d be foolish to stand by idly. Starting pitching is still a weakness on the club, and the Mets do need to add a few more arms to the mix — regardless of whether they sign Barry Zito. However, the clock is ticking, and as we get closer to the mid-February reporting date for pitchers and catchers, more good arms will be scooped up. While Zito bides his time, the Mets need to make a few acquisitions.

Looking at the free-agents still on the market, there are still a few pitchers worthy of at least a spring training invite, if not a one-year contract. With the Rangers dropping out of the Zito sweepstakes, they’ll likely set their sights on Mark Mulder — who would be much cheaper but the Mets have not shown much interest. Which is strange, because he fits the bill as a potential front-end starter, if healthy. Another lefthander, Mark Redman, had a winning record for a lousy Kansas City Royals team, has been curiously ignored by the market. Surely he’s worth at least an ST invite. Tomo Ohka is also out there, and might be worth considering. If the Mets prefer someone more youthful, the 25-year-old Jerome Williams is the youngest free agent pitcher still available, and while his career has gone downhill since winning 10 games in 2004, he’s still young and talented.

Then there’s the non-tendered Joel Pineiro, one of those enigmas with “great stuff” who hasn’t fulfilled expectations. You can consider him the righthanded Oliver Perez. Sure, the last thing Rick Peterson needs is another project, but like Perez, Pineiro could potentially develop into a middle- or top-of-the-rotation starter. In fact, he was a front-end starter as recently as 2003, so he’s capable — maybe ten minutes with the Jacket can help him recapture the magic.

Similar to Pineiro is Tony Armas Jr., a righthander who was the Mike Pelfrey of the Montreal Expos organization back in 2000, and in fact was their Opening Day starter in 2003. Myriad arm problems have stunted his development, but he has shown flashes of brilliance when healthy. He might be worth a one-year deal, with the understanding that he could end up in AAA for the year. He’s a longshot, but is still young and is certainly a more worthwhile investment than, say, Jose Lima.

If Omar Minaya doesn’t sign one of the above-mentioned pitchers — and I’d be surprised if he didn’t offer an ST invite to at least Armas — then you have to figure that one of the following:

1. Omar’s putting all his eggs in one basket – for Zito
2. Omar has a deal in the works that we don’t know about
3. The Mets are ready to give Aaron Heilman another shot at the rotation
4. Jose Lima is coming back

My feeling is that Omar is too smart to put all his eggs into a basket that might not be delivered until Easter. And I’m hoping to god that LimaTime! is over for good. That leaves #2 and #3 as viable options — though a trade seems unlikely for a few reasons.

First, I don’t see the Mets making a trade for anything but a front-end starter — it wouldn’t make sense to trade away talent to bring in another back-end guy. However, there aren’t many (if any) front-end starters on the block. Further, any that appear to be available — Danny Haren, Rich Harden, Jake Peavy, for example — would almost certainly require that Mike Pelfrey and/or Philip Humber be included in any deal, in addition to Heilman and probably Lastings Milledge. My feeling is that Pelfrey and Humber will stay put — unless Billy Beane reduces his demand to include one or the other (and not both) in return for Haren. Hopefully, we won’t see the farm being dealt away for Harden (who has health issues) or Joe Blanton (a mediocre starter whose stock soared thanks to a 16-win, Trachsel-like season).

Minaya has mentioned before that he’s comfortable with his pitching staff the way it is currently constructed, and he does have flexibility. There are a lot of “ifs” in the plan however, as much depends on the progress of John Maine and Oliver Perez — two starters who often have a hard time getting past the fifth inning. With Brian Bannister removed from the equation, you have to think that someone else will be thrown into the starting rotation mix for no other reason than to provide depth. After seeing 13 pitchers start a game in 2006, and having two guys over 40 anchoring the top of the rotation, it’s safe to assume the Mets will stockpile as many arms as they can to get through 2007 — with or without Barry Zito.


Rangers Give Zito Deadline

According to the Star-Telegram, owner Tom Hicks emailed Scott Boras with the news that Barry Zito has until this weekend to accept the Rangers’ contract offer.

Hicks is quoted to have written:
“We’ve made a very strong offer. If we don’t have agreement with his agent by this weekend, we will pursue other alternatives.”

Kudos to Mr. Hicks, who was getting played by Boras since November. The Rangers did indeed make a very fair and strong offer, and deserve to get some kind of answer. Why should Texas wait around for someone else to make a better offer? Either Zito wants to play for the Rangers, or he doesn’t.

So it appears that the Mets will be bidding against themselves come Monday, as the Rangers were the only participating team that had the resources to put up a fight.

While the Mariners continue to insist on being part of the game, they still only have $5M to play with under their strict budget. They’ll be lucky to sign Steve Trachsel with that kind of money, never mind Barry Zito. Recent reports that they’re looking to move Adrian Beltre and/or Richie Sexson to free up dough are encouraging to Seattle fans, but unrealistic. It sounds like a great idea, except for one catch: nobody wants Beltre, and the punchless Mariners can’t afford to trade away a run producer like Sexson (remember, this is a team that just acquired Jose Vidro to be their DH).

The other pretenders in the Zito Sweepstakes are the San Francisco Giants, who are tapped out after giving future con Barry Bonds a $21M deal. Supposedly, Bonds is willing to defer most of the money, but do the Giants really want to have so much future debt to obtain Zito?

Boras is waiting for the $100M offer that he claims his client is worth. So far, there is no mystery team waiting in the wings, despite whispers from the Bronx and Anaheim.

As Vin Scully says, “pull up a chair … we’re going to be here a while … “


Yanks Shop Randy Johnson

Brian Cashman couldn’t speed dial his West Coast comrades fast enough, upon hearing Randy Johnson muse melancholy on the attributes and importance of being near family. Randy had just lost his brother, it was the holidays, and how else would a man feel under the circumstances?

Cashman, however, is going full throttle to move the Big Unit with the no trade clause, as Johnson has been more of a Big Albatross than the big-game ace that was supposed to lead them to multiple World Championships.

It was kind of like having a big old refrigerator stored in the back corner of your basement — in the way, of little use other than maybe keeping a few six-packs cold. To get rid of it, you have to coax it out of the corner, move a lot of stuff, and open a path to the stairs. The stairs … gosh even if you can get the thing to the foot of the stairs, how are you going to get the old clunker UP the steps? And even if you do manage to get it up there, who is going to come by and take it away?

That, in many ways, was Randy Johnson for the last year and a half. A large, immovable, underperforming appliance that was just taking up space. Very useful at one time, but not anymore.

But two things happened on the way to the scrap heap: the market for mediocre pitching went through the roof, and Randy Johnson decided he wanted to be near his family. His $16M salary might seem exorbitant until you realize it’s only for one year. In this market of four- and five-year commitments, that’s a bargain.

From the Yankees’ point of view, this is a window of opportunity to dump one of their most underachieving acquisitions of the past ten years (only in the Bronx can a 17-8 pitcher be a disappointment). Johnson would have been traded within ten minutes of his “trade request”, but Brian Cashman actually needs time to field a bevy of competitive offers. For example, the Diamondbacks are supposedly offering their starting third baseman Chad Tracy, who had a down year in 2006 but is only 26 and an All-Star in the making. Rumor has it that the Padres will offer Scott Linebrink, who would be a boon to the Yankees’ rebuilding bullpen. And now the Dodgers have entered the fray, perhaps dangling some of their can’t-miss prospects.

So how does the shopping of Randy Johnson affect the Mets?

The New York newspapermen are speculating that the move of Johnson’s contract means the Yankees will make a push for Barry Zito. Personally, I think these pundits drank too much egg nog. Zito never was on the Yanks’ radar, and doesn’t fit into their overall plans. Cashman has publicly stated that he’s looking to trim the Yankee payroll, not add to it, and there is no way he’s going to pony up a 5- or 6-year commitment to a regressing pitcher after the Carl Pavano debacle. Remember, the Yankee scouts were high on Pavano — and none are high on Zito. If the Red Sox had not spent all their money on Daisuke Matsuzaka, and instead entered the Zito sweepstakes, then the Yanks might enter the bidding just for spite. But the way things look, clearing Big Unit’s salary will be done for three reasons: one, to remove the albatross; two, to maybe fortify the bullpen or farm system; and three, clear some dough in case Roger Clemens comes out of retirement in mid-June.

So, although trading Johnson won’t affect the Mets’ pursuit of Barry Zito, it could make an impact on any trades the Mets might make. For example, as was stated above, the Padres may deal Linebrink — which would make them suddenly receptive to deals involving Aaron Heilman (who they view as a possible starter) and/or Oliver Perez (who they see as a reliever). In other words, the Jake Peavy talks could reopen.

Should the Dodgers be sincere in their pursuit of the Big Unit (actually, they probably just want to keep him away from the Padres), they would have a logjam in the starting rotation, which has already added Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf to holdovers Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, and Brad Penny. Penny has been the one shopped around after a despicable second half, and could be offered to the Mets if Johnson joins LA. Though, I’m not too fond of Penny’s attitude and hope he comes nowhere near Shea, except as an opponent.

Less likely is a deal with the Diamondbacks, should they bring Randy back to Arizona. Their ace Brandon Webb is going nowhere (except to the Yankees, if they throw in A-Rod in the Johnson deal), but Omar Minaya could probably pry away Livan Hernandez. It wouldn’t be an earth-shattering move, but Livan has always been a horse of an innings-eater, and like his half-brother Orlando, manages to rise to the occasion in big games.

What’s most likely to happen? D’Backs are desperate to bring Randy back, and the Big Unit would prefer to return to his home in Arizona. If indeed the Diamondbacks are offering Chad Tracy, the Yankees would be crazy not to accept the deal, as Tracy would fit right in as their starting first baseman and make Jason Giambi the full-time DH. If the Tracy reports are not true, then a Padres package that includes Linebrink would seem to most suit the Yanks’ needs.

However it turns it, we’ll see a clean and speedy end to the Randy Johnson Situation, which may in turn spark another move or two. It should be an interesting story to watch unfold.