Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » July 2004 » Unit Watch, Day 2

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07/18/2004: Unit Watch, Day 2

I still don't think this is going to be a daily thing (but never say never...), but I found some interesting stories on this topic in the weekly Cardinals Birdhouse newsletter.

Nate Ravitz (who the hell is he?) and Bill Madden of the New York Daily News provide an interesting "Point/Counterpoint" feature (providing you read the email for Ravitz and then bounce to the Web for Madden's piece). Ravitz doesn't see the Yankees getting Johnson, and he makes some interesting points:

At times, it seemed as though it was pre-ordained that Johnson would be in Yankees pinstripes this season.

I'm having trouble seeing it. The Diamondbacks aren't going to give up the Big Unit without getting significant players and/or prospects in return, and the Yankees simply don't have them. Their top prospect, catcher Dioner Navarro, would certainly be a prime chip in any trade. But there simply aren't many others. Second baseman Robinson Cano looks like a keeper, but the D'Backs already have Scott Hairston (and Matt Kata), even if it's possible that Hairston eventually ends up in the outfield. Still, Navarro and Cano wouldn't be close to enough, and the Yanks have few other intriguing prospects in the high or low minors.

What if the Yanks offered Navarro, Cano and Jose Contreras AND offered to pick up, say, 1/3 of Conteras' salary? That still probably wouldn't be enough. Remember, Seattle got Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama in exchange for a three-month rental of Johnson back in 1998, and that was four Cy Youngs and one perfect game ago. And in this case, it's not just a rental, as Johnson is signed through next season.

Today's report in the New York Times that the Red Sox may try to send Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs for prospects, and turn around and deal those prospects to the D'Backs, makes a lot of sense, depending on who they could get for Nomar. Would the Cubs give up stud right-hander Angel Guzman? That's a hefty price to pay for a rental, but Nomar could easily be the missing piece to a World Series, and the Cubs are in pretty good shape in their rotaton for the next few years without Guzman.

A package of Guzman, Kevin Youkilis and shorstop Hanley Ramirez is probably better than anything the Yankees could come up with.

Time will tell. The "baseball world" expressed shock when Carlos Beltran ended up with the Astros instead of the Yankees, while the rest of us knew that the Yanks simply didn't have the pieces to get a superstar player (at least until November). The same is likely to be true of Randy Johnson.
Meanwhile Madden seems almost smug in his assurance that Johnson is practically a Yankee:
Now that the Diamondbacks have gone about their due diligence in contacting all the contenders and pseudo contenders about Randy Johnson, they will be obliged to cut to the chase and get the trade dialogue going in earnest with the Yankees. This was the "Big Unit's" message to them: Don't waste time talking to teams he has no intention of going to, and, try cutting a deal with the one team he absolutely will approve.

Although Johnson clearly stated to the Diamondbacks that the Yankees were his team of choice, reports have persisted that the Angels, Cardinals and Red Sox would be active bidders and viable alternatives.

Not so.

Angels owner Arte Moreno said last Tuesday he was absolutely opposed to trading his prize prospects, most notably third baseman Dallas McPherson (who is being groomed to replace Troy Glaus next year), first baseman Casey Kotchman and catcher Jeff Mathis for a 40-year-old pitcher. Still, Moreno, who has the same kind of will to win as George Steinbrenner, may be just waiting in the weeds (as he did in the Vladimir Guerrero sweepstakes last winter) to see how the D'backs negotiations play out with the Yankees, with the idea of swooping in with a potential "trump" offer of Mathis and two lesser prospects. But again, Johnson is said to be lukewarm about the Angels.

Reports of the Cardinals being in contention for Johnson are absolutely baseless.

There's no way the Cardinals can take on Johnson's $16 million salary and be able to re-sign shortstop Edgar Renteria. As it is, ever-resourceful Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty managed to turn the $7 million "surplus" he had last winter into seven players - Cris Carpenter, Jeff Suppan, Reggie Sanders, Tony Womack, John Mabry, Ray Lankford and Roger Cedeno - just to keep his payroll at $84 million. He's stretched to the max.

As for the Red Sox, Johnson's disinclination to reunite with Curt Schilling has been well-documented, and you can be sure that the entire Fenway nuthouse of pampered stars and disgruntled free agents-to-be has little appeal for him. The more things change, the more they remain the same in Beantown where Red Sox manager Terry (The Enabler) Francona elected last week to give Pedro Martinez an extra day of his annual week long midseason vacation to the Dominican Republic by pitching Derek Lowe (who got bombed by the Angels) in the first game back. Francona insisted that was always the plan, but suspicions abounded that the Red Sox were concerned Pedro wouldn't make it back in time to pitch the second-half opener. In any case, his delayed start will now preclude him from facing the Yankees next weekend.

So like it or not, sports fans, it looks more and more as if it's the Yankees or nowhere for Johnson.
Madden doesn't face the problem of the lack of prospects, though. Granted, I'm just some schmo fan in a city that doesn't even have an MLB team, but it seems pretty clear that Arizona isn't just going to sell Johnson (hmmmm....when's the last time a player was simply sold to another MLB team? Does a "Babe Ruth" type deal ever happen anymore?), and the Yankees supposedly don't have the prospects to make the deal come down. And without prospects to shop anywhere they probably can't make a multi-team deal to garner some trade bait for Johnson, either. Or am I missing something here (very possible)?

A couple articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch aren't exactly calculated to bring hope to Cardinal Nation, but reading between the lines one realizes that anything, however unlikely, is still possible at this date. Veteran PD beat writer Rick Hummell sizes up the situation:
If [Cubs pitcher Mark] Prior had gone down for the year, the Cubs could have been looking at Randy Johnson. But Johnson, 40, will make $16 million next year, plus a prorated portion of that this season.

For Johnson, the Diamondbacks want a young catcher, corner infielders and pitching.

Johnson said he wanted to go to a team that could get to the World Series. The Cardinals, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Anaheim Angels and both Chicago teams could fall into that category.

There is no way the Cardinals will take on $23 million in salary, even though they might have the pitching (Dan Haren) and catching (Yadier Molina) the Diamondbacks might want.

One baseball man close to the Cardinals' situation classified their chances of making a trade for Johnson as remote.

The East Valley Tribune quoted "a person who speaks often with Randy Johnson" as saying he wants to go to the Yankees. But a weak farm system limits what the Yankees can offer.

You can eliminate most of the other teams for one reason or another. This makes it possible that Johnson might even finish the season in Arizona.

The Diamondbacks' four new investors privately have expressed a desire to keep Johnson. General manager Joe Garagiola Jr.'s advisers have told him not to repeat the trading fiascoes of last winter involving Schilling (going) and first baseman Richie Sexson (coming).
And the PD's Joe Strauss points out that it's not quite a simple analysis though:
Both Cardinals ownership and management have played down the likelihood of becoming involved in bidding for the Arizona Diamondbacks' five-time Cy Young Award winner, a pitcher who may one day be judged as the most dominant lefthander in the history of the game.

Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager Walt Jocketty have taken turns referring to Johnson's cost in dollars and prospects, his age and the Cardinals' chemistry. While admitting Johnson, 41, would upgrade the starting rotation, DeWitt and Jocketty emphasize the disadvantage in bidding for a player sought by the large-market New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, among others.

Yet the organization remains intrigued by Johnson. It can't help it.

During the nine-game homestand preceding the All-Star break, scouts from both leagues said that acquiring Johnson would make the Cardinals prohibitive favorites to win the World Series.

"They're seven games better than the next-best team in the league without him," one National League scout said. "With that lineup, how dominant would they be with him?"


Serious impediments exist to any pursuit of Johnson.

An injury-depleted farm system would virtually necessitate the Cardinals involve a third team in discussions with the Diamondbacks. The third team probably would be a contender in need of a veteran starter, such as Matt Morris. The third team would have to have prospects that would satisfy the Diamondbacks.

DeWitt cited the team's $10 million loss last season in mandating the payroll remain fixed this year. While the Cardinals have avoided last summer's injuries that led to the costly manipulation of the 40-man roster, increased attendance hasn't caused ownership to radically alter its stance. Described as "interested" by a club source, DeWitt said less than two weeks ago that Jocketty retains "some flexibility," but not enough to make such a financial commitment.

To make a trade for Johnson the Cardinals would almost have to deal the pending free agent Morris, whose $12.5 million salary would largely offset the lefthander's $16 million price tag for this season. A deadline deal would reduce the difference to little more than $1.2 million for this season.

Morris represents an important thread to the Cardinals' tapestry. Despite his well-documented struggles this season, his 10-6 record is better than Johnson's 10-7, though Johnson has been hurt by the Diamondbacks' Class AAA-caliber lineup.

Financial ramifications aside, manager Tony La Russa hasn't forgotten what jettisoning veteran Jerry Koosman did to the 1984 Chicago White Sox after they steamrolled to the '83 AL West title.

Morris not only has shown recent progress re-inventing himself as a pitcher, he is a good friend to closer Jason Isringhausen and a pivot point among a rotation that typically watches a game as a group.
But the main thing to consider is that even though it looks like the Cardinals have little chance to make a deal for Johnson, that's exactly what Cardinals management is going to want Cardinal Nation to think:
One thing is certain: The Cardinals will play their hand with a poker face. Little precedent exists for DeWitt's Cardinals showing public zeal for a player.

The Cardinals played down their pursuit of Scott Rolen two years ago even as Jocketty and Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ed Wade haggled over the final elements of a July 29 deal. (Bud Smith became the final piece of the trade and has since struggled with elbow and shoulder problems.)

Even Rolen's eight-year, $90 million contract extension - agreed upon more than a week before its September announcement - generated strident denials until a press conference was called for a Friday afternoon. (Technically no deal was in force until Rolen passed a routine physical, the club reasoned.)

There is logic within the shadows.

A team's fan base is less disappointed over the failure to acquire a player when expectations are doused rather than fanned.
Keep an eye out on this; it could get interesting.

Len on 07.18.04 @ 10:05 AM CST

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