Friday, August 01, 2008

Randy Johnson Trades: Revisited

While future hall of famers were being whisked across the country in blockbuster trades yesterday, the Yankees made a minor move of minor leaguers that went largely unnoticed. In it, Brian Cashman sent AAA infielder Alberto Gonzalez (no, not that one) to the Washington Nationals organization in exchange for AA pitcher Jhonny Nunez. With this trade, three fourths of the haul from the 2006 Randy Johnson trade are now out of the organization. What follows is a look back at those deals and the impact on the players and the Yankees.

To begin, Randy Johnson was acquired in the fall of 2005 from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Yankees were trying to recover from The Collapse of 2004, and it would be George Steinbrenner's final tyrranical off-season. In order to buy out Johnson's no-trade clause, the Yankees signed the 40-year old pitcher to a three year extension, which paid him $16 million. The money spent on RJ following this trade was later used by Cashman as a reason for not signing free agent Carlos Beltran, who went to the Mets for $13M/year. The trade losses:

Javier Vazquez: Aquired via trade in the previous offseason (for Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera), Vazquez pitched servicably for the Yankees during the regular season, leading the team in innings pitched and strikeouts. His ERA was below average (ERA+ of 92) but he was a workhorse in an otherwise aging rotation. It was the post-season that punched his ticket out of town, including this game, which I am pretty sure never happened or will be spoken of again. Since the trade, Vazquez has had a couple league average seasons- one with the Diamondbacks and one with the White Sox, in addition to a good 2007 season. It's possible that New York was just too much for Vazquez, but his loss isn't too great.

Dioneer Navarro
: It was his addition in the trade that most angered me at the time. While the Yankees' farm system has beefed up nicely in recent years, the prospects at catcher remain far away from the majors (especially when they get decked in spring training). In the meantime the Yankees played with fire, no one even approaching respectable to replace Jorge Posada in the event of injury. Well, this season the fire finally burnt, and the Yankees had to make a big trade to fill the void. If, instead, they'd held onto Navarro, they could be enjoying the kind of production he's currently giving the first place Rays: .313/.370/.421 and an All-Star appearance.

Brad Halsey:
For a while it looked as though Halsey might stick as a major leaguer- he was, after all, left-handed. But Halsey struggled for the Diamondbacks and A's, and his only claim to fame was giving up Barry Bonds' 714th home run.

Randy Johnson's two seasons in the Bronx were mixed; in 2005 he pitched well, 225 strong innings with an ERA+ of 112, and a solid strikeout ratio. But in 2006, RJ fell apart, ERA+ was 90, the strikeout rate dropped and so did his effectiveness. After a terrible ALDS against Detroit, Johnson was looking for a way out. Brian Cashman granted his wish on January 11, 2007, almost exactly two years from his previous trade. The haul:

Luis Vizcaino: The Viz would join the Yankees as his fourth team in as many years, but he had really kicked up his strikeouts (72 in 65 IP) as the Diamondbacks' set up man. The Yankees had him take charge of the seventh inning and he pitched okay- but with far too many walks. He had two of them, along with two hits, in just 2/3 of an inning in the 2007 ALDS, and his return was never likely. Vizcaino was offered arbitration following the 2007 seaosn but declined, netting a suppelementary round draft pick for the Yankees in the 2008 June Amateur Draft.

Alberto Gonzalez-
The impetus for this piece, the man the blogs nicknamed The Attorney General (although it may be spelled differently: baseball-reference has him one way, another). A slick fielding, average-hitting shortsop, Gonzalez looked to be the kind of player the Yankees were looking for to replace the Miguel Cairos of the world- someone who could actually field multiple positions and not look totally lost at the plate. Unfortuanately, Gonzalez never developed much, with an OPS below .700 in both seasons in baby pinstripes. He was also awful at the plate in two major league callups, but never had much of a shot, not with The Captain in front of him.

Ross Ohlendorf- The former Princeton student struggled as a starter in his first season in the Yankees' organization, and the team made the decision to convert him to a reliever. Initially it worked out well, and Ohlendorf finished the season with important innings in the big leagues. But despite picking up a few mph on his fastball, Ohlendorf could not consistently get men out in the majors, and had been demoted prior to the Nady/Marte trade. He was starting again in Scranton; one rumor had him being re-converted to a starter, while another rumor was he was trying to learn a splitter. Either way, he's out of the organization as well.

Steven Jackson- Coming off a great season in AA (in the Arizona organization), Jackson had high promise coming to the Yankees. However, he struggled at both AA Trenton and AAA Scranton, and has bounced between the levels again this year. As a 26 year old, he's not much of a prospect any longer. While he's the last remaining direct evidence of the trade, he will probably not amout to much at the big league level, if any.

Finally, we have the aftermath in 2008. First of all, the Yankees used their supplemental draft pick on Jeremy Bleich, of Stanford University. Despite some injuries and seemingly sub-par statistics, Yankees fans and blogs have grown on Bleich, especially after this vote of confidence from Baseball America's John Manuel (though I'm not really sure what "But he's a guy." means...) Next we have the big trade, Ohlendorf and others (frontlined by 19-year old prospect Jose Tabata) sent to the Pirates for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. From the reports of the trade, Ohlendorf was the other key guy, and the Pirates chose from a list of minor leaguers for the other two spots. Still, despite a mediocre performance in the big-league pen, Ohlendorf had enough value to improve the Yankees for 2008 and beyond.

This brings us back to the final trade: Gonzalez for Nunez. While I established above that Gonzalez didn't bring much to the table for the Yankees, he's still by far the most major-league ready infielder the Yankees have; in the event of an injury to Jeter or Cano, the Yankees will struggle to put someone who can at least field the position adequately. Nunez, meanwhile, is a bit of a mystery. He's 22 years old and doing well at AA, so he still has a prospect status, and is apparently a fastball-slider type pitcher. But no more is known about him.

So, what to make of the trades? I still think that the first RJ trade was one of the worst "Steinbrenner moves," and with Cashman in control the Yankees would have been a better team in 2005 and 2006. Still, the trade haul for him has given the Yankees useful players both this year and, as a result of subsequent trades, next year.

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