11 January 2007

Movin' Unit (BR)
Yankees shed 82 inches of unsightly mass in one day!

A mid-winter discussion on America's pastime -- that would be baseball, not cooking and selling methamphetamine -- is sure to elicit a groan from the regular readers of this site, but that's alright.

See, this time of year always gets me down anyway, and with Admiral Monkeyface last night delivering what's got to be the most depressing speech I've ever watched, I'm totally unmotivated to blog politics. Here on out, I'm just counting the days until pitchers and catchers report to Florida and Arizona for Spring Training.

Thirty-five, if you were wondering.

I'm genuinely excited about what next season holds for my beloved New York Yankees, because for the first time in quite awhile, this off-season was not punctuated by the acquisition of the biggest-name free agent on the market. Until last week, New York's most notable wheel-slash-deal had been the shipment of Gary Sheffield to the Detroit Tigers for a package of three Minor League pitching prospects, including fireballer Humberto Sanchez, who is likely to see at least some Major League action in 2007.

Happily, the Bombers continued the purge of the aged and enfeebled on Tuesday by trading Methuselaian left-hander Randy Johnson and most of his bloated $16 million salary back to Arizona whence he came, in exchange for middle reliever Luis Vizcaino and three Minor Leaguers including pitchers Ross Ohlendorf and Steven Jackson, both of whom had sparkling 2006 campaigns for Double-A Tennessee.

Johnson began his tenure in pinstripes two years ago by verbally accosting and shoving a reporter on his way to the press conference to officially announce his joining the club. It was all downhill from there. Though he was credited with 17 victories in each of his two seasons with the Yankees, more credit is due to the potent offense than to Johnson himself for these numbers. Had he demonstrated even half the brilliance that distinguished his years with the Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners, it's conceivable he might have won 25 games apiece these last two seasons.

The Yankees traded righty Javier Vazquez and catcher Dioner Navarro for Johnson, then already 41 years old, as part of a three-team deal in early 2005, and immediately locked him into a two-year contract extension. Unit had been a favorite and target of frequent overtures from New York owner George Steinbrenner for years, and as is becoming an annual ritual, the acquisition was heralded by The Boss as the final piece in the Yankees' quest for a 27th World Championship and their first since 2000.

But a balky back, about which he was less than forthcoming with the Yankees' brass and trainers, slowed Johnson's fastball considerably and robbed his slider of all its bite, and Johnson's work ethic and hunger to win seemed to have declined in proportion. Johnson remarked after several of his losing outings that he was "happy just to keep [his] team in the game," which is not what a pitcher is typically paid an eight-digit annual salary to do.

The monolithic southpaw will be remembered by Yankees fans for his embarrassing performances in the playoffs. After twice thwarting the pinstripers in post-season play -- in the 1995 American League Division Series for Seattle and in the 2001 World Series as a Diamondback -- Johnson looked lost on the mound in both of his playoff starts with the Yankees, going 0-1 with a 10.34 ERA as his heavily-favored team fell in the opening round two years in a row.

More than ridding itself of an aged, creaky, cranky, underachieving and overpaid pitcher, the Yankees' 86ing of Randy Johnson signals a sea change in the way the front office conducts business. It marks a commitment to building the team around a nexus of young talent developed at the organizational level, rather than re-arming each season with a collection of high-priced hired guns who have never played as teammates before and thus have little chemistry.

Though the ground-up strategy of team construction probably means an end to the annual inevitability of a divisional first-place berth for the Yankees, it portends the re-establishment of a more intimate connection between the team and its true-blue fans. We have cause to hope that young sparkplugs like Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, easily the three most exciting Yankees of the season past, are just the first wave of a dynamic youth movement that leads the team into a new, less evil, non-imperial era.

4 Comments:

Blogger Old Broad said...

Shades of "Bull Durham" here - one of my all-time fav movies.

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