Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Randy Johnson

The primary reaction I’ve seen about this trade has been “huh?” And, on the surface, I can’t say that I blame people for that gut reaction. Johnson has had two pretty uninspiring years for the Yankees, but I think people have gotten used to the idea that the Yankees contend every year no matter what, and part of that attitude is spending money and spending money until it hurts.

However, this winter has seen the Yankees moving away from that attitude, first trading Gary Sheffield for prospects and now toying with the idea of moving Johnson in a similar type of deal.

I can’t particularly say that any of the prospects being bandied about are all that exciting. Rotoworld’s most recent report mentioned Brandon Medders, Dustin Nippert, Ross Ohlendorf and Micah Owings.

Owings has the highest ceiling of this bunch. He dominated in Double-A last year, then had a so-so 15 starts for Triple-A Tucson. A 3.72 ERA and a 10-0 record masked a 1.49 WHIP. His walk rate was a not so horrible 3.5 BB/9, so I’m willing to blame some of the bad WHIP on the hitter’s environment in Tuscon. What I’m less likely to forgive is the drop from a 4.1 K/BB ratio in AA to a 1.8 K/BB in AAA. In other words, Owings is a real prospect, but he’s got some work to do before he’s ready for the majors.

Nippert looks less impressive, but at some point he’ll be a capable, if not great, major league starter. Medders looks like a generic set-up guy right now. Ohlendorf is the least exciting guy in the group, but he’s also the furthest away and has the most time to develop.

So I don’t love this trade for the Yankees. Not in a market where Gil Meche got $11 million a year, Jeff Suppan got over $10M, and Jason Marquis got almost $7M per year.

I have two theories about this deal (and they’re not mutually exclusive):

1) The Yankees have a handshake deal with Roger Clemens in place, and it will simply be a matter of days before Clemens signs with the Yankees once Johnson is traded.
2) The Yankees are genuinely committed to a youth movement, and Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson are the beginning of the move toward a younger, leaner, and meaner team.

For days, I had been thinking that #1 was the only answer. Now I’m starting to think it’s #2.

A Yankee youth movement won’t look like a youth movement for almost any other team. They have the payroll to be competitive and take a look at some younger players who might be part of the next Yankee dynasty. But it will involve cutting bait on guys like Johnson, who really didn’t fit into New York, didn’t like playing there, and was not a good investment.

For all people bitch about the spending power the Yankees have, they’re not a corporately owned team that’s spending $1B to field an All-Star team and then rolling the loss into another arm of the corporation. George Steinbrenner only has so much money to play with, since he makes and loses money with the Yankees. Chasing Aubrey Huff to play 1B this year at any cost would have made little sense. Paying Barry Zito $17M/year to pitch like an above average pitcher (this is a blog-to-be-written-later) also wouldn’t have made sense.

The key isn’t so much going to be what Owings, Nippert and Humberto Sanchez do or don’t do. The key is going to be getting Yankee fans to buy into the idea that buying the best player on the board every winter doesn’t always make sense, especially if the best player on the board is part of a thin field.

I still can’t say I would like this trade for the Yankees. But I can at least appreciate what I think it is the Yankees are trying to do.

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