Archive: December 26th, 2006

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.

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