Rivals in Exile: Eying the Big Unit

Larry Mahnken: Coming out of the All-Star break, the Yankees had the best record in baseball, but a pitching rotation that didn’t belong there. Javy Vazquez was an All-Star (though a look beyond his traditional stats makes that selection questionable), but beyond that there were lots of questions.

Jon Lieber? Hot and Cold. Jose Contreras? Lukewarm and Ice Cold. Orlando Hernandez and Brad Halsey? They can give you good starts, and overall the rotation should be good enough to hold on to a 7-game lead, but do you really want to rely on that?

Fortunately, the missing two-thirds of their 3 Aces were on the way back. Kevin Brown was scheduled to throw three innings Thursday and come back next week; Mussina was going to come back on Sunday. Things would be okay in Yankeeland.

And then Brown only threw two poor innings in Trenton, and Mussina woke up on Friday with terrible discomfort in his elbow. Off to the DL went Moose, and the return of Brown was pushed back to… when Brown comes back. The Yankees can expect both of them back by the end of the month, and certainly for the postseason, but they’re being faced with a nightmare scenario right now.

They don’t need more starting pitching right now, but they might need more starting pitching in a few weeks — and they’ve only got two weeks to make a trade without having to worry about Boston blocking them on the waiver wire. And with Randy Johnson officially being sort of on the market, they can’t afford to pass up an opportunity to get better that they might not have again this year.

Now, putting aside all the irrelevant issues about it being “good for the game”, or whether it’s fair or not, the simple fact is that the Yankees are at a clear disadvantage here, even with Johnson apparently favoring a trade to the Yankees, perhaps even to the degree that he’ll accept no other.

Frankly, the Yankees don’t have very much to trade. Third baseman Eric Duncan, catcher Dioner Navarro and second baseman Robinson Cano may very well become good, or even very good major league players, but they’re still too far from being ready to be considered outstanding prospects. Now, perhaps a package of two of those and maybe Halsey, or even Contreras, wouldn’t necessarily be that bad a return for a Diamondbacks team in rebuilding mode. However, the Diamondbacks aren’t looking for prospects at those positions.

I guess if Johnson makes a nuisance of himself and demands to go to New York, then the Diamondbacks might decide that they’re better off dumping him for whatever the Yankees can offer. But I don’t see it coming to that, and I don’t see Johnson coming to New York.

Speaking of Johnson, there have been rumors about Nomar Garciaparra being moved in a Johnson trade, but Boston apparently has not only backed away from that possibility (if they had ever even thought about it), but backed away from Johnson entirely, figuring that he probably would veto a trade to Boston, and they don’t want to waste their time.

What I’m more interested in is the Garciaparra aspect of it. Nomar’s almost certainly gone after this season, but would Boston seriously consider sending him out of town? And what would it take for a team to get him?

Ben Jacobs: I really hope Boston wouldn’t seriously consider sending Nomar out of town. I think the only reason there were any rumors about him being traded in the first place was that the fans in Boston turned on him amazingly quickly.

It’s been a very strange season for him. First, there were the stories about the negotiations between him and the front office about an extension, all of which painted him in a bad light. Then, there was the Red Sox pursuing A-Rod, and Nomar complaining. Then, he got hurt in Spring Training and the injury, which was initially supposed to be minor, dragged on forever. Finally, when he did come back, he struggled both at the plate and in the field.

Red Sox Nation as an entity just seemed to snap after he sat out the final game of the Yankees sweep while Jeter dove headlong into the stands. I’ll admit that I wavered a little too, but Nomar remains my favorite player in baseball, and I certainly don’t want to see him get traded.

Even more importantly, there’s no reason to trade him. He’s picked things up at the plate and is now hitting .310/.347/.517, which is awfully similar to the .301/.345/.524 line he put up last year. He had a .286 GPA last year, and he has a .285 GPA this year. So, he can still help the Red Sox. A lot.

When I first heard that the Red Sox might be able to get Johnson if they gave up Nomar, I was torn. The thought of adding the Big Unit to a rotation that already has Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling definitely made me giddy. But the thought of sending Garciaparra packing was not a happy one.

Basically, there are three reasons I want the Red Sox to keep Nomar. First, he’s hitting like himself (not his pre-wrist injury self, but still very good). Second, I know he’s very unlikely to re-sign this offseason, but as long as he’s on the roster, there’s hope that he’ll stay on the roster. Third, if the Red Sox are going to win a World Series this year, I want Nomar to be a part of it.

I know as a Red Sox fan that I shouldn’t be picky about how I want them to win the World Series, but that’s the way I feel. Garciaparra’s the player I associate the Red Sox with. He’s been with the team for the entire time since I changed from being a casual Red Sox rooter to a diehard baseball fan and Boston fanatic. To see Boston win a World Series this year, but not see him be part of it, just wouldn’t feel right.

As for Johnson, I’m beginning to think he’s not going to go anywhere. There were all sorts of rumors about him possibly getting traded, and they just multiplied when he finally said he’d consider going somewhere else, but I don’t know how much he really wants to leave Arizona.

You know the Simpsons episodes where Bart and Lisa really want something so they keep asking Homer (Will you take us to Mt. Splashmore? Will you take us to Mt. Splashmore? Will you take us to Mt. Splashmore? Etc.) until he says yes? Well, I kind of think the same thing happened with Johnson.

So many fans want him to be traded to their team and so many reporters want to have the story on where he might go, that they just kept hounding him. Are you willing to be traded? Are you willing to be traded? Are you willing to be traded?

Finally, he said that he would consider a trade.

The thing is, the logistics of this thing don’t fit real well. The team that has the most to offer for him (Anaheim) doesn’t appear to want him. The teams that want him most (Boston and the Yankees) don’t have enough to offer. And the team that has him doesn’t really want to trade him that badly.

The New York media seems to think it’s a given that he’ll end up with the Yankees, but I think it’s anything but. Either way, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the Red Sox aren’t going to get him, so I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed that I’m right about him staying in Arizona (or hope that an NL team steps up to the plate and gets him).

Assuming I’m correct about Johnson, what moves would you like to see the Yankees make in the next two weeks?

LM: Hmm… I like that idea.

Cashman: Will you trade us Randy Johnson?
Garagiola: No!
Cashman: Will you trade us Randy Johnson?
Garagiola: No!
Cashman: Will you trade us Randy Johnson?
Garagiola: No!
Cashman: Will you trade us Randy Johnson?
Garagiola: No!
Cashman: Will you trade us Randy Johnson?
Garagiola: No!
Cashman: Will you trade us Randy Johnson?
Garagiola: No! No! No! NOOO! If I trade you Randy Johnson will you shut up and quit bugging me?!
Cashman: Yeah, of course! Well? Will you trade us Randy Johnson?
Garagiola: YES!
Cashman: Thanks, Joe!

Ehh, maybe not. I figure Johnson’s staying put, too, but a guy can hope, can’t he?

If the Yanks don’t get Johnson, I don’t know what, if any trades I’d like to see them make. The only real hole in the lineup is at second, but Cairo’s putting up decent numbers there (.261 GPA). The back end of the bullpen is rock-solid, and while their middle relief is shoddy, they probably won’t need that very much in the postseason.

They could always use a more reliable bat off the bench to pinch-hit for Cairo/Wilson, or a pitcher if they get to the Series, but that’s hardly a priority. I guess the starting rotation is the only area I’d look at, but if they can’t get Johnson, it’s probably not worth the effort for a guy who’d start, at most, three times in the playoffs, and probably wouldn’t be much better than what they’ve got.

Maybe I’d look into acquiring a LOOGY, because while Rivera, Gordon and Quantrill can get lefties out just fine — better than they do with righties, in fact — they could use a quality southpaw reliever to play to the weaknesses of the lefties they’ll face in the playoffs. But it’s not a priority.

This isn’t to say that the Yankees don’t have room for improvement, but the options available to them for improvement aren’t plentiful or particularly impressive. The minor improvements would probably not be worth the minor league talent they’d be parting with, unimpressive though that talent might be. They’ll probably make one or two moves at the deadline, but I doubt they’ll do anything that will have any real impact on the regular season or the playoffs, just their farm system.

BJ: Unfortunately, the Red Sox are in somewhat of a different situation than the Yankees. While I’d say the Red Sox rotation is better than the Yankees, I’d also say it’s more in need of an upgrade. How is that, you say?

Well, the Yankees might want to add a starting pitcher for the playoffs, but they’ll make it to October just fine with what they’ve got. The Red Sox, on the other hand, have plenty for the playoffs with two aces (Schilling and Pedro) and two guys who are capable of making quality starts (Wakefield and Arroyo).

The problem is that they may not reach the postseason if they keep giving away every fifth game, which is essentially what they’re doing as long as Derek Lowe’s in the rotation. Since pitching seven scoreless innings in back-to-back starts in mid-June, Lowe’s allowed 31 runs in 28 innings. I know he “only” has a 6.75 ERA in that time, but it’s not entirely your defense’s fault when you allow 10 unearned runs over two games.

The Red Sox are actually 9-9 when Lowe starts, but that’s only because they’ve been averaging 6.17 runs per game when he takes the mound. They really need to replace him with somebody else, but that’s another problem. Who can you replace him with?

Miguel Batista? I wouldn’t have minded if the Red Sox signed him to a reasonable deal this off-season, but I wouldn’t want to give up prospects for him.

Kris Benson? I know he’s having a nice run of starts right now, but he still has a 4.26 ERA and 1.40 WHIP this year, not to mention a low strikeout rate (5.70 K/9IP) and a high walk rate (3.12 BB/9IP).

Livan Hernandez? We’re looking for somebody to remove Lowe from the role of starting pitcher, not somebody to remove David Ortiz from the role of largest man on the team.

Could all three of those pitchers perform better than Lowe over the last two months of the season? You bet they could. I think you could perform better than Lowe right now if you were allowed to break a chair over something before the game to intimidate the hitters.

But even if any one of them could be an improvement, they’re all still mediocre pitchers. I’m sorry, but I don’t have a real big interest in trading prospects for mediocre starting pitchers after the unmitigated disaster of last year’s Jeff Suppan trade (Freddy Sanchez hasn’t done a single thing for Pittsburgh yet, and they’ve already won that trade).

So, I’m beginning to think that the team the Red Sox have now is essentially the team they’ll try to win the World Series with. And that’s fine, because I think this roster is as talented as any team in baseball, and more talented than most.

I’m just going to have to hope that the Big Unit stays in the desert, the Rangers remember they can’t pitch, and Billy Beane doesn’t pull off a #$@%ing A trade.

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