Wednesday, July 14, 2004
The Price Of Excellence
- Sign the most dominant player of your era.
- Acquire competent but not stellar players with complementary talents for the other positions.
Word is the Lakers are going to deal Shaq to the Heat for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler," he wrote. "Yeah, and what other six players? That deal would be the biggest rip-off in sports since the Yankees wrote a check for Babe Ruth."Indeed, and that's exactly the problem the Diamondbacks face. A lot of clubs want Randy Johnson, an ace stranded on a desert island of mediocrity or worse. Between him, Curt Schilling, and a lucky pickup in Luis Gonzalez, the Snakes put together one heck of a team in 2001, a team that got the Diamondbacks their first World Series rings, the fastest for any expansion franchise to do so. But credit cards can only do so much, and the unraveling began last year, with the unloading of Curt Schilling to the Red Sox. Recently, Johnson answered in the affirmative to the idea he'd be open to a trade, if it would benefit him and the Snakes.
Johnson's suitors include the Yankees (of course), the Red Sox (why not?), and the Angels, and even, it's said, the Cubs and Dodgers, among others. I have already quoted the Register in dismissing this story so far as the Angels are concerned. The Dodgers we can safely eliminate because of the political problems Garagiola might have in making intra-division trades. Today, the New York Times publishes a speculated three-way deal that brings Johnson to the Red Sox: Garciaparra to the Cubs, pitching prospects to the Red Sox, and thence to the Diamondbacks for Johnson, who lands in Boston.
The Big Unit hasn't enjoyed the hubbub; indeed, he seems to be playing coy:
Whether Johnson would accept a trade to the Red Sox is uncertain. While Johnson and Boston's Curt Schilling combined to lead the Diamondbacks to a championship in 2001, it is believed that Johnson prefers to keep the more effusive Schilling at a distance. Still, Schilling has left several recruiting messages for his former teammate.But -- and this to me is the big question -- who do you get in exchange for a first-ballot Hall of Famer? What disgorging of somebody else's farm system compensates for a guy who still has a K/9 of 10.09, and a K/BB of 5.00? If you're the Cubs in this deal, the Sox would have to get far too many prospects to justify their return -- Garciaparra is a solid player on the downside of his career -- and if their prospects could in turn land Johnson, why not get him for their own anyway, and bump one of Zambrano, Clement or Maddux to the Yankees or Red Sox?
"There's a reason why I changed my number," Johnson said. It was not clear if he was joking.
The Yanks are sure to try something like this on their own, raiding somebody else's pantry to pick up a great player, but I don't see it working. 2002 and 2003 have shown that intelligently managed farm systems can produce enough talent to overcome an overflowing wallet. The future's too important to -- maybe -- win now.
Coda: today's Register quotes Arte in saying the Big Unit won't appear as an Angel:
"One of my commitments was to build a championship team in the long term, and I don't think the way to do that is to give up a part of your minor-league system," Moreno said Tuesday.Whew, and whew again. But -- as an aside -- Frankie claiming Mariano Rivera is the "greatest closer in the big leagues"? Once upon a time, maybe.
There are apparently reports in the New York media that the financial considerations have something to do with it. They don't. The D-Backs are not in any sort of financial difficulty, and could afford to keep Johnson next year, too. Trading Johnson would, however, free up $16 M to get two pretty darn good pitchers next year.
So, back to the players. It's too bad (from our perspective) if the Angels are indeed bowing out, because the general D-Back blogging consensus was that the Angels' prospects were definitely the best (as opposed to the magic beans offered by Cashman and crew).
We shall see if the D-Backs and Johnson take a step back from the abyss. It does not sound like Johnson necessarily enjoyed his All-Star Break and may decide he prefers the comparative anonymity of Phoenix.