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Sunday, July 18, 2004

Why The Angels Don't Need A Big Johnson

Arte's flip-flopped on his desire to acquire Randy Johnson over the last few days. Assuming, for the moment, that the latest flop isn't a maneuver to raise the stakes just high enough so that the Snakes won't trade Johnson to the Yankees for junk, here's some reasons why the Angels really, really shouldn't get Randy Johnson:
  1. The Diamondbacks have to ask for too much. A player of Randy Johnson's caliber will make a huge impact, to be sure, but the quality of talent the Angels would have to give up would be correspondingly huge; packages including two or three of Mathis, McPherson, and Kotchman have been discussed publically. All these positions are needs:
    • First base needs a quality power hitter. Erstad's all but lost his. Kotchman didn't do well in his first callup, but as they say, power is the last tool to develop.
    • We can be pretty certain Glaus won't be back to play third base, despite his agent's wishful thinking. Glaus might be an answer at first, but if Shawn Green is any precedent, we can safely bet the Angels won't be betting that way. (The fact that they didn't renew his contract in the 2003/2004 offseason was also a strong indicator the front office had concerns about his recovery from his shoulder injury.) Dallas McPherson's power display in the minors has been consistently impressive, though his double platinum sombrero still shows he needs more time. Figgy, while fantastic offensively, is nothing more than Eckstein Plus, not the power hitter that the position really requires.
    • At the catcher position, Benjie and Jose Molina together, while still competent, show signs of wear, Benjie particularly. His troublesome hamstrings lead me to think his weight is weighing on his ability. Mathis, of the three top Angels prospects, might not be needed immediately, but catchers decline faster than any other position.
  2. Johnson's pre-existing knee problem requires regular cortisone shots to keep it operable. Darren Dreifort of the Dodgers has a similar injury, and it sidelined him all of last year. In short, Johnson is an injury waiting to happen.
  3. RJ's injury has shown up already in reduced skills. Last year, his ERA climbed to 4.26, the highest it's been since 1989, while his K/9 declined to 9.87, the lowest it had been since 1990. This year, his 10.19 K/9 is the second lowest it's been since 1990. Declining peripherals were the reason I was uncomfortable with the Colon signing; it's now the principle reason why I'd be concerned if the Angels picked up Johnson.
  4. Age. RJ is a 40-year-old pitcher; we can reasonably infer that he'll decline over the remainder of his contract.
A trade of two or more top prospects for Randy Johnson would be worse than the Mo Vaughn signing. Sure, Johnson's dominant now. But will he be so over the remainder of his contract? And what about the sometime-glaring, sometimes-small-but-widening holes in the club's present? There's troubling signs he won't be the dominator everyone thinks of, and what the Angels have to lose is their future. Vaughn, at least, didn't require the Angels to cough up their best prospects, and didn't have -- weight aside -- any preexisting medical conditions.
Update: Peter Gammons makes one additional point in yesterday's column: if indeed Johnson is demanding a trade because his team is losing, he's acting like a spoiled brat:
But there is something superficially offensive about a great player asking out the first time he's on a bad team, in this case one ravaged by injuries. In the last 10 years, Johnson has pitched for six first-place teams, two second-place clubs, one that finished third and now the last-place Diamondbacks. OK, the '98 Mariners were 48-59 when he was traded to the Astros, who finished 102-60 with a huge lift from Johnson.
No, Peter, it's not "superficially offensive", it's truly and genuinely disgusting.

I actually don't find it offensive if a player wants to leave a struggling team. Check that, I don't find it offensive if a 40-year-old wants to leave a struggling team for one final shot at championship glory.

Maybe you're just bitter about how the whole Mailman/Glove thing worked out for the Lakers (just kidding, it appears you don't really care about the Lakers), but I guess it doesn't offend me.

Besides, I don't think Johnson had much of a desire to leave until the team went into the tank and he was forced to read and hear the trade rumors. If you were going to be traded, and had a no-trade clause, I don't think asking to be traded to a winner instead of a loser is that unreasonable.

I like the conspiracy theory idea, though, that Arte's change of mind is merely ploy to raise the price too high for the Yankees.

To hear it from Phoenix media, a Randy Johnson trade is now 50/50 at best.

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