Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 5, 2007
BASEBALL: Unit, Over and Out
Looks pretty likely now that Randy Johnson really will be shipped back to Arizona. Let's do a little Q&A:
What are the Yankees trying to do right now?
Win now. I was going to say, "as always," but with the age of Mariano, Posada, Giambi, and Mussina and knowing that the other key guys (A-Rod, Jeter, Abreu, Matsui, Damon, Pettitte) are also nearing the slow downward slope, the task will remain especially urgent. You simply can't and shouldn't rip this team up and rebuild, but you can decide to shave off a few older guys and try to reload.
Does this deal help them win now?
Johnson's peripheral numbers weren't horrible in 2006, but he clearly was often ineffective due to injuries, and his age makes him a poor long-term bet to stay healthy. But he's a smart pitcher who now has solid control, and the enormous leverage he generates means that if he's healthy he could easily be much more effective in 2006. Dealing him for one fairly effective middle reliever (32-year-old Luis Vizcaino) and prospects looks like a short-term setback. On the other hand, there's also a significant chance that Johnson is finished, and with Mussina, Pettitte, Wang, and Igawa, the Yankees aren't totally strapped for starters, though they once again face some real depth issues unless the Arm Fairy pays a visit to Carl Pavano.
The deal makes much, much more sense if they really are close to bringing back Roger Clemens, who remains as effective as any pitcher in baseball.
I don't buy the idea that these Yankees can't win with bad chemistry in the clubhouse, but of course, like Sheffield, Johnson is a royal pain in the butt and only likely to be moreso in his decline.
What would they get in return?
Vizcaino is a useful guy, though his career has been pretty inconsistent. In 2003, his HR/9 jumped from 0.67 to 2.32 in a year, pushing his ERA from 2.99 to 6.39. Last year, his K/9 shot up from 5.53 to 9.92 for no reason I'm aware of. Then again, unlike many of the current Yankees, he has a World Series ring.
The main prospect they would get is Ross Ohlendorf:
The 230-pound righty, described as "an absolute horse" by his college coach, ex-Yankee Scott Bradley, has a power sinker that should improve as he refines his breaking pitches. Ohlendorf pitched most of last year at Double-A and was a candidate to make the Diamondbacks out of spring training, but likely will start at Triple-A for the Yanks.
Between him and Wang, the Yankees could be heavily dependent on their infield defense before long - which makes more sense of the Minky signing, if Ohlendorf actually stands a chance of entering the rotation this year. Ohlendorf walked less than 1.5 men per 9 this year between AA and 1 start at AAA, though he threw 15 wild pitches, suggesting that the sinker may have more action than a AA catcher can handle. His K rates are solid but nothing special (7.36 for his minor league career) and he allows a lot of hits, so he's probably more of a Wang-type pitcher. Hard to project from just the numbers if he is actually a major prospect or just rotation filler.
Teammate Stephen Jackson had better numbers than Ohlendorf in 2006 but posted a 5.33 ERA in A ball the previous year (in which he struck out 89 guys and allowed 205 hits), and so is unlikely to be ready for the Big Show until he's built more of a track record. The Yanks get the Attorney General as well, but he seems like a backup shortstop at best.