Hopefully, Big Unit's suffering in Arizona will end this week
Posted: Monday July 26, 2004 12:13PM; Updated: Monday July 26, 2004 12:13PM
Has Randy Johnson thrown his last pitch for Arizona?
Just how much more of this can Randy Johnson take?
The rumors. The losing. The rumors and the losing.
The bad, bad, pathetically bad baseball.
With the clock ticking down on the final week before the trading deadline -- mark your calendars for Saturday at 4 p.m. ET -- Johnson, the Arizona lefty, is in a world of hurt. His club has all but abandoned him. Sunday, Johnson struck out 14 Rockies in eight innings, gave up only six hits and handed a 1-0 lead to his bullpen. To the surprise of no one, Arizona promptly blew it in the ninth. The Diamondbacks lost their 14th straight game.
Johnson has had five July starts. He has limited opponents to 28 hits in 36 innings. He has an ERA of 1.75. And to show for all that, he has a 1-2 record.
To add insult to the lack of run support, Johnson is hounded, every day, with questions about his future.
The Angels? The Yankees? What about staying put in Arizona?
The trade deadline can't get here soon enough.
Johnson is reportedly scheduled to meet with Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo early this week, and if the Big Unit says he's had enough, Colangelo ostensibly will look harder into trading him. But it's not that easy. Nothing is these days for Arizona.
The Diamondbacks, so they say, would prefer Johnson stick around for next year when the team should be better despite his $16 million a year price tag. But if the Unit wants out, he wants out, and the Diamondbacks have to listen to offers. They already are.
The Yankees want Johnson -- owner George Steinbrenner practically has said so -- and Johnson reportedly has the Yankees at the top of his list of "Places I Want to Go ... If, You Know, I Decide I Really Want to Go."
Last Monday, Tagg Bozied, who plays for the Class AAA Portland Beavers, hit a walkoff grand slam, and when he came around to touch home plate, all his teammates joined him for the now familiar bouncing-up-and-down thing. Somewhere in the middle of the celebration, Bozied felt a sudden pain in his leg. Yup. He had ruptured the patellar tendon in his left knee. He's lost for the season. "If I ever get lucky enough to hit another game-winning home run," he said, "I am definitely not jumping on home plate."
A reason the Indians keep hanging around, and now finally are on the good side of .500, is big designated hitter Travis Hafner, who is hitting .380 with eight homers and 26 RBIs this month. His 1.308 OPS in July is second only to the guy in San Francisco and a reason to believe the Indians are headed in the right direction.
"You know, if I have to be associated with that home run, that's fine with me, too. Kirk can have that moment for the rest of his life. I'm in the Hall of Fame. See ya."
-- Dennis Eckersley, on the game-winning home run he allowed to Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series
But the Yankees may not have the mature prospects Arizona wants for its prized pitcher. So do the Diamondbacks let the Yanks have him anyway, just to keep the guy who helped Arizona win the World Series in 2001 happy? (The Yankees, to be fair, would be taking about $24 million off the Diamondbacks' payroll, too.)
But what about the bad vibes between these teams? The Yankees, remember, stole David Wells away from the Diamondbacks a few years ago after Wells had agreed to come to Arizona.
And what if the Angels come up with a better deal than the Yankees? Do the Diamondbacks try to talk the Unit, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, into that?
Come on, deadline. Hurry up.
Johnson, of course, remains the most recognizable name to be tossed around in baseball's annual trade frenzy. There are others, including Kris Benson, Pittsburgh's lanky right-hander.
Benson has a 1.88 ERA in his past five starts, the best stretch of his career. At least six teams, including the Angels, Mets, Rangers and Twins, are after him. His trade value, after nine straight quality starts, couldn't be higher.
But Monday night he's scheduled to pitch again, against the Braves at Pittsburgh's PNC Park. The operative word there is "scheduled." Do the Pirates pitch him and risk an injury, especially if he's at the peak of his value?
The Phillies, reportedly, are closing in on another Diamondbacks player, center fielder Steve Finley, who is hot enough (the Padres and Marlins also want him) to demand that he stay in center field, wherever he goes.
And there will be others talked about. The Indians are only 4 1/2 games out of the AL Central, so they're looking. Lou Piniella wants help for the Devil Rays. The Marlins and Mets are in the NL East race despite being two and three games under .500, respectively, and they'll be major players this week. The Astros are a .500 team and they're listening. Everybody wants in.
It will be a talk-heavy week. Some trades are bound to take place, though probably not as many as you might think. For Johnson, it figures to be one unsettling week. Everything is still up in the air. Way, way up there.
Saturday must seem like a century away.
We saw a side of Alex Rodriguez on Saturday that we never have seen before. And, you know, it was strangely comforting. It was reassuring to witness, for once, the human side of this all-too-carefully manufactured superstar.
Yeah, some of you Yankees fans, you're right on the money. No rivalry in that series at all.
Greg Maddux has two complete games in his past two starts. He's given up just 10 hits, two runs and zero walks. Yeah, the guy's finished.
Barry Bonds turned 40 on Saturday, officially making him a mean old man.
Watch out for Indians rookie Grady Sizemore, who got the first home run of his career Sunday off K.C.'s Zack Greinke. And look out for the Indians, who climbed above the .500 mark for the first time in six tries this season. The Tribe has a chance in the AL Central.
The next big giveaway at Wrigley Field: Hardhat night.
Frank Thomas has played in 74 games this season, and Magglio Ordonez in 52, and neither of them will be able to play for the rest of the season, in all likelihood. So how the heck are the White Sox still anywhere near first place in the AL Central?
With Mike Piazza due to move back behind the plate for the Mets, it's time for me to 'fess up. I guess he was worse over there at first base than I thought.
Why did the D-backs fire Bob Brenly? I liked Brenly, now they hire Al Pedrique, who amazingly has found even more ways to lose than Brenly. Which brings up my idea -- the D'Backs should auction off the manager position to the public. "Be Manager for a Game!" Could they do any worse? At least that would put butts in the seats. -- Bryce Knittle, Phoenix
Comments, questions or obviously unfounded criticism? To e-mail Donovan, use the form below.
Well, Bryce, I don't know if I'd put my butt in a seat to watch you manage the D'backs. Nothing personal. But, yeah, I'm not watching much of them anyway. With Finley, Gonzo and the Unit probably on their way out, with Pedrique's problems (he has lost 14 straight and is 2-19 since taking over), this is a sad, sad team right now.
Why are so many people writing off the NL West? Sure, the Rockies and D-Backs stink, but the Padres, Giants, and Dodgers would all lead the NL East with their records and be second in the Central. Check the race for the wild card ... Padres ... then Giants. What gives? -- Doug Downing, San Diego, Calif.
Doug, good question. Darn good question. You know, I've been ripping the NL West for weeks. It just looks ... weak. Maybe not as weak as the NL East, but weak. But you know what? The top three teams in the West all have winning records against the Central, and two of the three have winning records against the East. Two of the three had winning records in interleague play, too. Obviously, it helps that L.A., for instance, is 11-2 against Arizona. But, Doug, you're right. The West ain't all bad.
How can you (and the rest of your peers) underestimate the Braves' talent? In 2003, they had one of the greatest offensive years in history. This year, the replacements for Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez have nearly matched their numbers. The problem is the injuries and subpar years from the Jones boys. This is still an offensive juggernaut with an above-average pitching staff. How can you guys not see that? I mean, you guys aren't actually that dumb. Are you? -- Steven, Las Vegas
Sometimes I wonder if some guys just write to hack me off. Or to test me. I mean, come on, Steven. A juggernaut? The Braves? They lost two huge bats in Sheffield and Lopez, and another in Vinny Castilla. And you know what? The Braves haven't replaced them. Even with huge years from J.D. Drew and Johnny Estrada, they're not the team that they were last season. The Braves are just 15th of the 30 major-league teams in OPS. (They are sixth out of 16 NL teams.) That's hardly juggernaut material. And, again, that's with huge years from Drew and Estrada. Let me ask you: Who could have figured they would put up the numbers they have put up? You, Steven? Drew's having the best year of his career, and he's been relatively injury free. He could play more games than he ever has. What, you predicted he'd suddenly stay healthy? And Estrada ... come on, Steven, you saw that coming?
Yeah, the Braves have had some bad luck. Everybody has some bad luck. The injury to Chipper Jones has hurt them, as has the missed time by Marcus Giles. But they got unexpected boosts from Nick Green and Charles Thomas, among others. And Andruw Jones is about on his typical pace. Bottom line: The Braves are not as good as they were last season. But they're closer to a playoff spot than anyone would have thought because of the unexpected performances of Estrada and Drew. Nobody could have seen that, Steven. No one, evidently, but you.