Unit of Measure

Timing is everything. On Thursday during the monthly Diamondbacks chat a lot of the discussion revolved around the rumored trade with the New York Yankees to bring Randy Johnson back to Arizona. During the chat Major League Baseball dot com announced that the structure of a deal had been completed between the two teams and that the commissioner’s office had been notified of a potential deal. The commissioner’s office then granted a 72 hour window in which representatives of the Arizona Diamondbacks could negotiate with Randy Johnson’s agents to work out a deal for an extension and/or for Randy to waive his no trade clause which would allow the deal to be completed. The posted story provided some details of the players who would be involved in the trade and made me wonder, what is the unit of measure we would use to determine if this trade was appropriate for the Diamondbacks?

The parameters of the trade have the Arizona Diamondbacks sending reliever Jose Vizcaino to the New York Yankees along with minor league pitchers Steven Jackson and Ross Ohlendorf and minor league shortstop Alberto Gonzalez. The Yankees will send Randy Johnson with his $16 million contract along with $2 million in cash to cover part of the cost of this year’s salary. At first glance you would be inclined to think the Diamondbacks gave up quite a lot for a 43 year old pitcher who is on the downside of his career especially one who has a questionable knee and is coming off his second back surgery. But let’s look at this deal a little closer. Going into the off-season the Diamondbacks starting rotation was identified as the primary need for upgrade. After Brandon Webb and Livan Hernandez there were lots of question marks. Trading Johnny Estrada to the Milwaukee Brewers brought a quality left handed starter in Doug Davis. This was obviously a great pick up as Davis has showed a tendency to throw lots of innings meaning the bullpen will not be taxed as it was last season. That left 2 spots in the rotation that were still questionable. Both Enrique Gonzalez and Edgar Gonzalez showed signs of being major league pitchers but each was also very inconsistent. Without another move for starting pitching the Diamondbacks still appear to have a gaping hole. Looking at the free agent market pitching, even mediocre starters were being sought after and paid incredible amounts of money. Barry Zito was signed to an astronomical contract for an extended commitment which basically set the stage for everyone else. Even Miguel Batista who was the with the Diamondbacks last season was able to garner a 3-year $25 million contract as a 35 year old starter with a career record less than .500. Of the remaining free agents still available, only Mark Mulder has shown signs of being dominant and he is coming off shoulder surgery and may not be available to pitch until the all-star break. In many cases shoulder injuries take two seasons to fully heal meaning you would be paying full price for partial performance in 2007. Given the pitching landscape, the Diamondbacks had little choice but to attempt a trade. There are very few teams with pitching surplus and even fewer that would be a match for what the Diamondbacks had to offer. Pitching is definitely a seller’s market. Going into the 2007 season the Diamondbacks have a good nucleus of position players but their young pitchers are still a little bit away from being ready. To find a starting pitcher just entering the prime of their career would mean the Diamondbacks would have to trade away some of their young starting position players which would jeopardize what they are trying to accomplish long term. Instead they opted to bring in a veteran who could provide them with two seasons. Mind you this is not just any veteran but probably the best left handed pitcher of this generation. While Randy Johnson has never been known as someone open with the public, he is someone who is very willing to provide insight and guidance to younger pitchers. This may be just the thing to help someone like Edgar or Enrique Gonzalez or Dustin Nippert who can now shadow Johnson during Spring Training and the season to watch and learn from one of the greatest players to have played. It is like having an additional coach on the field or in the dugout. Let’s not forget that the Diamondbacks have offered Johnson as they did Luis Gonzalez a chance to join the organization after their playing days are over as a coach and instructor. This would seem to be a great opportunity. The Diamondbacks are still salary constrained so look for them to use the next two days to attempt to renegotiate Johnson’s contract to fit within the parameters they have laid out for 2007 and 2008. Turning to the talent that the Diamondbacks gave up, none of the three minor league players were among the top 20 within the organization and all would soon need to be protected or else be left available for the Rule 5 draft. As was the case in 2005, there was a potential that any or all of these three would be selected by other teams giving the Diamondbacks nothing in return. Vizcaino’s salary was $1.7 million last season but given his performance it was anticipated that he would cost in the neighborhood of $3 million for this season. High priced middle relief is something that the Diamondbacks just could not afford at the present time. For these reasons, it makes sense that they made this deal. No one is expecting Randy Johnson to return to the dominance he had when he first signed with Arizona in 1999 but even at 43 I am betting he has more wins left in him than anyone currently available on the market for 2007-2008.

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