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Randy Johnson to the D'backs...Again

Arguably the greatest left-hander of all-time, Randy Johnson was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for relief pitcher Luis Vizcaino and minor leaguers Ross Ohlendorf, Steven Jackson and Alberto Gonzalez. The D'backs also extended Johnson's contract through 2008; if healthy, he'll help anchor the top of the rotation for two years in the NL West while Arizona's young pitching prospects progress through the minors.

Luis Vizcaino is your basic middle of the bullpen reliever; he'll give Joe Torre another arm to burn through in 2007, but isn't a dominating presence by any means. As for the kids in the deal, neither Ross Ohlendorf or Steven Jackson are top pitching prospects. Kevin Goldstein did not rank either pitcher in his Top Ten Arizona Diamondbacks Prospects piece -- by the way, if you've been missing KG's prospect series, you're missing some of the most informative writing of the offseason -- although some of that might have to do with their system being loaded and all. John Sickels rates all three prospects as Grade C+ (comments from his 2007 prospect book are in that post) and Keith Law seems to approve of the D'backs acquiring Johnson without giving up any of their top talent, "not even Dustin Nippert, whom they've been offering around all winter." Both of the minor league pitchers involved in the deal seem to be future relievers, which is good for New York in the long run, but is not quite the stockpile of young starter arms that Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman is making it out to be.

Alberto Gonzalez is not much of a hitter; he hit .290/.356/.392 for the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League, and seems to be an extreme groundball hitter (52%) with a low line drive rate (17%). That's just a one-year sample, but no one seems impressed with his bat. His glove on the other hand...

Alberto Gonzalez Plays Above Average per 150 Games, 2006
Pos Team Lg IP Pl +/- PAA/150
SS Tennessee SL 1054.7 348 24 30
SS Tucson PCL 35.3 10 0 4
SS Total PCL 1090 358 24 30

Those defensive numbers are courtesy of Minor League Splits, and they are impressive. Gonzalez may eventually find a job in the majors as a defensive specialist, if those are any indicator of his true abilities.

As for Randy Johnson, he's still got some left in the tank. Last season was brutal, but it was a combination of bad luck and poor health. Johnson let 38.2% of all baserunners score, allowing a very poor .321/.363/.564 line with runners on to opposing hitters. His flyball rate was up slightly from the previous two years (42.5%, as compared to 38.2% and 37.3%, in 2005 and 2004 respectively) and his homerun rate inched upward from 1.25 to 1.33, although his HR/F actually dropped 1.8% from last year. Johnson's struggles were every other month, with April starting off well, and September finishing up horribly. Most of his trouble came in the 3rd and 4th innings, which leads me to believe that his back was bothering him more as the game wore on. That's just a guess, though.

Nate Silver points out that Johnson's BABIP was .369 with runners on, and only .239 with the bases empty. Pitching from the stretch may have aggravated his back somewhat, as the numbers are very skewed everywhere you look with runners on or off. It could be poor luck, poor health, or a combination effort of the two causing the discrepancy. His Peripheral ERA was 4.20, over three-quarters of a run lower than his actual ERA, and his FIP was 4.37. Throw in a potentially healthy back along with a lack of bad luck, and Johnson's a pitcher you want at the top of your rotation again.

This is an excellent move by the Diamondbacks to stay in the arms race in the National League West without giving up anything of substance, and the Yankees may end up regretting this deal if their rotation does not pan out as planned. Carl Pavano is a walking question mark, Kei Igawa may be over matched as a starting pitcher in the powerful American League East, and Andy Pettitte's elbow could cause trouble somewhere down the line. The Yankees did add a few useful pieces by trading Johnson, but it is a half-step backwards for 2007, as Cashman noted.