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Giants sign Randy Johnson

What a weird offseason in San Francisco.

The Giants signed Randy Johnson to a one year deal worth $8 million yesterday. This signing comes on the heels of several other acquisitions: Edgar Renteria, Bobby Howry and Jeremy Affeldt. This is a disturbing trend – that’s four smart, sensible moves by Giants GM Brian Sabean.

All of these deals are short-term deals (two years or less), thereby limiting the team’s risk. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that each of these players is going to be productive – perhaps even more so than they were last year.

Johnson had a 3.91 ERA last year, but a 3.76 FIP and should benefit from gettingout of the hitter-friendly environment of Chase Field. While he may not pitch 200 innings this year, Johnson did manage 184 innings last year as well as 205 innings in 2006 and 225 in 2005. While Johnson’s fastball now hovers around 90-91 MPH, he still struck out 8.46 hitters per nine last year, while walking only 2.15 per nine. In other words, despite his advanced age, Randy Johnson has a very reasonable chance of being an above-average starting pitcher for 170+ innings next year.

The scariest thing about this development is that the San Francisco Giants now have to be considered outside threats in the NL West. Don’t laugh – it’s true. As pathetic as their offense is, their pitching is so good as to make up for it. You know how good Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are; Jonathan Sanchez is on the brink of breaking out (although his ERA was 5.01 last year, his FIP was 3.85 and there’s reason to believe he can be even better than that); Barry Zito had a 4.33 ERA and 80/54 K/BB ratio in his last 106 innings of 2008; and Randy Johnson is Randy Johnson.

Furthermore, there’s reason to believe that Matt Cain and/or Jonathan Sanchez could join Lincecum as an elite pitcher in 2009. Both of them have tremendous stuff, and there’s a chance that either/both of them “figure it out” in 2009, elevating them to the level of the NL’s best. Of course, this may not happen, but even if both pitch worse than their stuff, they should each be productive pitchers.

On the other hand, questions abound – how well will Lincecum hold up after his huge workload last season? Can Barry Zito build on his “strong” finish to 2008? Can Randy Johnson’s back hold up? And the Giants lack quality depth for their rotation as well. And, then there are their offensive issues. So there is considerable risk for the Giants 2009 season, and chances are they will not compete for the division. However, there is a reasonable chance that the Giants can contend in what should be a very weak division – if they avoid setbacks, and one or two things go their way (like Sanchez elevating his game, for example), then the Giants could really surprise some people.