Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Maybe Youse Can Leave?

Last week, I made a one-off comment about the rumors that Randy Johnson had demanded a trade, saying that the whole thing reminded me of a line from A Bronx Tale, where Chazz Palminteri declares to a bunch of rowdy bikers "Now youse can't leave." I figured the Yanks are stuck with the Big Unit, bad back, big money, dropping strikeout numbers, and all.

Turns out that there seems to be some smoke to these rumors, with word that while Johnson didn't demand a trade, a recent family tragedy caused him to mention to Brian Cashman how important living close to his family is to him. Cashman apparently took that as an indication that Johnson would waive his no-trade clause for a deal closer to Johnson's family in Arizona and California, so he started working the phones. And to my surprise, it seems that a number of West Coast teams are interested in taking a run at Randy.

Now, all of this is very much at the rumor stage, and the names of teams--much less players--being bandied around is shadowy. The most concrete one seems to involve the San Diego Padres and their elite middle man, Scott Linebrink. Linebrink's someone the Yanks have liked in the past; the Pads are a contender who could use a high-level starter. But this doesn't make sense in the larger picture--the Yanks have half a dozen righty middle relievers right now, with a few others on the horizon. What they lack is starting pitching, position player prospects, and a firstbaseman who can both field and rake. Another team supposedly in the mix, the Arizona Diamondbacks, have supposedly said that none of their young firstbasemen or top outfield prospects are available in a Johnson deal.

...And so that's the rub. Yankee fans don't trust Johnson to be good (much less great) in 2007, but trading him is a "cents-on-the-dollar" proposition. Complicating this are analyses like this one by Nate Silver on Prospectus's Unfiltered. Here's the money quote:
I’ve got news for you: the Yankees might not be trading their #4; they might be trading their #1. Johnson’s ERA PECOTAs out at 3.52, which is the best in the Yankee rotation by some margin. You can take that PECOTA with a certain grain of salt because it’s so hard to find appropriate comparables for Johnson. But the names that PECOTA does come up with — Roger Clemens foremost among them — are a reminder that you shouldn’t bet against a great pitcher until you absolutely have to.
Now, PECOTA's often smarter than I am, so it's possible Nate's program is just seeing something I don't. But I think it's extremely unlikely that Johnson shaves nearly a run and a half off his 2006 ERA (a perfect 5.00) in 2007. He just hasn't looked that good over the last two years. But if there is something to PECOTA's analysis, then Silver's right: the Yanks can't dump Johnson for little to no return. I'm also pretty scared by the idea that the front office would use the money saved on Johnson as an excuse to open up the vault for Barry Zito on a 100+ million, 5+ year contract.

But, on the other hand, is there anyone who doubts that Johnson needs a change of scenery, and that the Yankees need a change of personnel? Twice the Big Unit has faltered in the playoffs, showing none of the dominance that the Yanks were expecting when he was picked up two years ago. You can't have a big star like him on the roster and not rely on him when it counts--even if he's been ineffective, even if he has a back problem that will require surgery. Maybe in Arizona, or San Diego, or wherever, his back will suddenly be sound, his bone-on-bone knee will stop aching, and he won't have mysterious shoulder pain. Maybe, back in the National League, he'll be an intimidator again. I just don't think any of these things will happen for the Yankees.

So here's to the guys who run the D'backs and Padres being big fans of PECOTA, and the Yankees getting a fair bit of swag for the Big Unit. The farm system is pretty low on position player prospects, and we could still use a firstbaseman. I hope Brian Cashman can make something happen.

****
NOTES

At least we don't have to worry about Shea Hillebrand joining the Yankees now.

It's official: Kei Igawa gets a 5 year, $20 million contract.

After an appeals court ruled that they could be presented to a Grand Jury, it looks like the positive steroids test results from 2003--the year that MLB had confidential survey testing to see if a full steroid testing program should be put in place--are going to be made public in the foreseeable future. Sounds like fun...

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