Why The Big Unit Could Be a Splash Hit In San Francisco

Aaron TurnerContributor IDecember 26, 2008

Okay, so on the surface this may appear like another classic Brian Sabean acquisition, impulsively signing a washed-up veteran who is 5 years past his prime. 

Randy Johnson, however, is only one of the most dominant left handed pitchers to ever play the game.  He already has a spot reserved for him in Cooperstown, and the only thing left to do is to decide when to call it quits. 

So why not let him do it after playing for his hometown team?

Sure, he is no C.C. Sabathia…at least not anymore.  But a look at his career numbers will show some staggering statistics. 

Without even having to go over his five Cy Young awards, Johnson was the league’s strikeout leader nine times in his career, with 4789 strikeouts total.  Heck, there is a slim chance he could even hit 5000 this season. 

Despite his reputation as the wild, unpredictable flamethrower, his strikeout to walks ratio is well over 3:1.  At age 45, the guy can still throw mid 90’s fastballs, as well as that deadly cut fastball and slider.  You may even remember his no-hitter in 2004 at the ripe young age of 41!

Signing the Big Unit may very well turn out to be a rather wise move after all. 

What will be most interesting to see is what Bruce Bochy decides to do with the rotation now that a third left hander has joined the club.  Obviously Zito is going to be a lock for a spot, so some questions are sure to arise. 

With Noah Lowry expected to return by Spring Training, will we see a 6-man rotation in 2009? 

This has been done in the past by teams, but that is often when a key member is injured for a period of time, and spot-starters are then used to fill in that spot. 

Does this signing mean that Jonathan Sanchez will soon be traded for a big bat? 

Edgar Renteria certainly won’t go far in improving the Giants’ offense, and a legitimate cleanup hitter is still desperately needed.  With Sanchez traded, Johnson could fill his spot, at least until Cy Bumgarner is ready to dominate in the majors.   

Another question that should be on our minds is: which Randy Johnson are we going to see? 

At age 45, Johnson is obviously far into the twilight of his career.  Still, in 2008 he went 11-10, with 184 IP, and a 3.91 ERA.  He also maintained his control, striking out 173, while walking only 44. 


2007 was a different story, however, as he made only 10 starts, going 4-3, and was on the bench most of the season with injuries.  Still encouraging though, is the fact that Johnson has only had 4 seasons out of 21 where has failed to make at least 25 starts.


With an injury free, or at least injury-light season, we could probably see Johnson go between 160 and 170 IP.  He will be pitching in AT&T, a pitcher friendly ballpark, and also pitching against the NL West, statistically the weakest hitting division in all of baseball. 


Much like Omar Vizquel was a mentor for the young infielders on the team, Johnson can prove to be a very valuable guru for this young pitching staff, even if his numbers aren’t as high as we hope.  Since his contract is only for one year, this gives the kids a chance to soak up some of the Unit’s knowledge and pick his brain, while at the same time not getting pushed out of spots in the rotation by a longer contract.


What’s more is the fact that Johnson will have two potential milestones to aim for.  The first and easily attainable is the 300 win mark, which he is only five shy of.  The second is the aforementioned 5000 strikeout mark, which he is 211 shy of.  A bit less likely, but technically within reach, if he performs at a high level all year.  

We must also remember that Johnson will have the chance to play back where his roots are, the Bay Area.  Since he was born in Walnut Creek, Johnson will be in familiar territory once more playing in San Francisco.  This will either give him more motivation, or turn out disastrous.  Considering Johnson’s character and the type of player he is, I somehow doubt it will be the latter.


While we all want the youth movement to go forward, keep in mind that in 2008, a fifth starter was a constant problem for the Giants.  Kevin Correia, Brad Hennessey, and Patrick Misch just weren’t able to provide any consistency.  If healthy, Randy Johnson is a very dependable pitcher, even at age 45. 


Finally, this could very well be the last season in Randy Johnson’s illustrious career.  While people often criticize (me included) the Giants’ attitude of hanging to, or signing players simply because of sentimental value, this one simply makes sense to me. 


A one year, $8 million contract is not too high, especially if Johnson gets between 10-15 wins this season, a stat that he has a very good shot to do. 


If nothing else, this signing will also give Giants fans to remember their former nemesis and division rival as a Giant, and wave goodbye to one of the greatest hurlers we have ever witnessed.