San Francisco Giants

Big Unit a Big Signing for the Giants: Randy Johnson an Instant Upgrade

Evan AczonSenior Analyst IDecember 31, 2008

Last week the Giants made one of their most important signings of the 2008 offseason. Was it a big left-handed pitcher? Yes. Has he won a Cy Young? Check. Does he have Bay Area roots? Confirmed. Will he fill out the Giants’ already above average pitching rotation? Absolutely. CC Sabathia? No sir.

Randy Johnson fits all of those requirements:

Big southpaw? Johnson held the title of tallest player in the majors for a number of years, measuring an impressive 6’10” from the mound to the top of his head. He’s also one of the winningest lefties in recent years.

Cy Young winner? Johnson has a few of those, collecting the most recent of his five awards in 2002. He’s also in second place on the all-time strikeout list, compiling 4,789 strikeouts over a 21-year career, trailing behind Nolan Ryan.

Homegrown Bay Area man? Randy grew up in the East Bay, attending Livermore High School before pitching at USC, and his mother and family live in Walnut Creek.

Improvement on the staff? He compiled an 11-10 record in a shortened season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, which is much better than that which the fifth starters in San Francisco put up. The likes of Pat Misch, Kevin Correia, and Matt Palmer put up a combined 3-13 record this year. His ERA, 3.91 in 2008, should go down this year playing in pitcher-friendly China Basin.

To boot, he only cost the Giants one year of $8 million, compared to the $161 million that the Yankees gave Sabathia over seven years. Even better, his quest for 300 wins (he stands at 295) will fill AT&T Park and garner national attention, helping to make the young players household names in the Bay Area and beyond.

I’ll say it again: Randy Johnson could be the most important signings the Giants made this offseason. At 45, he doesn’t exactly fit with the youth movement that GM Brian Sabean has been preaching about since mid-2008. But he fits the same mold that Edgar Renteria does as a bridge-builder from the Giants’ “veteran era” to the young guns.

As much as I would like to fully commit to the youth movement in San Francisco, I think that every good young team needs the mentoring veteran. Last year’s crop was good, but not great. Omar Vizquel did wonders defensively with Emmanuel Burriss, but was a liability at the plate. Rich Aurilia had a great rebound season, playing solid defense all around the infield, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be back this year.

The signings this offseason have the look of a few veterans who will stabilize the rocky parts of the team, and provide a great service to youngsters with questions. Bobby Howry, 35, will help lock down the bridge between starters and Brian Wilson. Edgar Renteria, 33, is only signed for two years with a third year team option.  is more than enough time to develop the young talent in Burriss and prospect Nick Noonan.

Randy Johnson should do the same for the pitching staff. The rotation now boasts three Cy Young Award winners, with Johnson joining 2002 winner Barry Zito and 2008 winner Tim Lincecum. But the Giants have been without a veteran starter since Matt Morris left the team in 2007.

At 30, Zito brings a lot to the table. He’s an established pitcher with a Cy Young under his belt, but he’s had a hard time proving that he’s worth the $126 million that the Giants signed him to back in 2007. He also isn’t an ace, pitching most of his career behind Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. Despite being the oldest pitcher on staff, his personality betrays his potential as a mentor, coming off as more of a cool teammate than a wise teacher.

Lincecum, at 24, is even less of a candidate to fulfill that role. Although very calm and collected, and the unquestionable ace of the staff, he is not the mentoring type, as he is only in his second year and is still trying to learn much himself. After a few more years in the bigs an older and wiser Lincecum may be able to impart wisdom, but it would be unfair to put him in such a position at this early point in his career.

Neither Matt Cain nor Jonathan Sanchez has the experience to do this either. With the signing of Johnson, Sabean has once again hinted that Sanchez is expendable, possibly opening the door for another young gun like Kevin Pucetas to vie for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Johnson won’t need to prove himself as the ace of the staff. He can be, but he’s not. Last year he showed that he is more than capable of putting up respectable numbers, and still has the ability to dominate a game, as evidenced by his record setting perfect game at age 40, becoming the fifth pitcher to throw a no-hitter in both leagues.

This fact will also draw the pressure off of the other pitchers on the team. Zito doesn’t have to play the sage veteran will all the answers, Lincecum will no longer feel as if he has to carry the team, and the back end of the rotation should be solid this year. Having Zito and Lincecum relaxed will do wonders for them, and I look for both of them to have big years.

Some will say that the $8 million could have been used on another bat, but there’s something comforting about the fact that, unlike last year, the Giants can expect to win every day the fifth spot in the rotation comes around. The options out there for third base still don’t impress me, and I don’t see any rumors popping up that have piqued my interest at all.

Randy Johnson is far from being a bad signing, and is a steal for only $8 million. He will work to get the Giants a National League West title, and he is part of probably one of the most efficient and most successful offseasons that we’ve seen out of Sabean in recent years. 


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