Johnson vs. Garland: Peering behind the curtain

Finally, we get more details on how the Randy Johnson situation unfolded from management. The AZ Central story has the bare bones - "the club's finances have changed since November" - but the real meat can be found in Nick P's latest blog entry. I think it's worth repeating the explanation from Josh Byrnes at some length, as it gives the best look so far at how things went down:

This off-season has been a tricky one for a lot of people. Kind of assessing our choices relative to the economy. If you sort of look at it month by month, a lot of our best planning has been accurate; sometimes it’s necessitated some adjustment. With Randy, I think he and us made a good attempt in October and into the middle of November and couldn’t get it done.

At the time he filed, it felt like they turned the page a little bit. I think we wanted to keep it more open-ended than maybe they did. Obviously he turned out getting a good deal and we understand the choices he had. We were unable to get a meeting that we hoped would help explain the scenarios of the off-season that might involve a longer process towards maybe a deal.

Again, we understand the risk when a player goes to free agency. The deeper we got into the off-season, maybe a few things changed our landscape, maybe most notably our expected expenditures in the draft and a few other things. And then the availability of a lot of pitchers. In the days following Christmas was the first time I really reached out to Craig and started talking seriously about bringing Jon here and luckily we were able to do it.

Randy's agent replies, "The Diamondbacks knew at the time exactly what that was and the Diamondbacks had a significant amount of time in which they had the exclusive rights to sign Randy." Well, 15 days - in which the team was also working out whether or not to offer arbitration to Adam Dunn. The end of that exclusive period does not mean the team can no longer sign the player, but the agent's statement does seem to confirm Byrnes' assessment, that 'they turned the page' on Johnson signing with the Diamondbacks at that point. Johnson seemed to want a deal quickly and, given the market, I can see why - the market for free agent pitching seems to have slowed significantly since the end of the World Series.

Interestingly, Byrnes remained pretty circumspect about whether they would have made an increased offer to Johnson. "Not necessarily," he said, before drifting, with iceberg-like relentlessness, off topic, into a quote that ended,  "It’ll be an interesting NL West this year." Nick says, "The Diamondbacks front office goes into operation shutdown whenever Johnson’s name is brought up," and that does seem to be the case - it took over a month after Johnson was lost, for even this information to emerge. Though hard to say whether it was just a case of no-one asking the right questions to the right people.

As a fan, inquiring minds do somewhat want to know full details, especially of how the greatest pitcher in franchise history was allowed to leave Arizona for the second time. After all, now that Johnson has signed with the Giants, where's the harm? It's not as if he'll be back, is it? Yet, equally, there's no longer any point getting into any kind of mud-slinging or 'he said, he said' scenario, and a dignified silence will reflect better on the team in any future negotiations with other players. I think it's clear the Diamondbacks available budget has increased as the off-season went on, due to the drop in draft picks, and the cost of pitching has gone the opposite direction. I trust 'Skins will come up with one of his invaluable diagrams to illustrate this.

Last Tuesday, say, we probably could have afforded to accept Johnson's offer of a 50% pay-cut - had the team wanted to, and that's by no means certain. However, he was no longer on the market, so it all became moot, and personally, I feel this pretty much draws a line under the whole saga. However, I note the $6.25m allocated to Garland is not apparently the end of the spending, with Nick's blog also reporting that progress has been made to an agreement with veteran reliever Tom Gordon. He was unimpressive last year [an 85 ERA+ with the Phillies] but this was his worst figure since his rookie season - and that was back when Ronald Reagan was the prsident. On the other hand, Flash is now 41, and a rebound year is no longer a certainty.

Elsewhere in the 'pen, there was a good write-up of Travis Blackley, and his promising performance in Mexican winter ball. An opposing pitching coach called him, "One of the best pitchers in the league" - sure, it's Mexico, but he had a K:BB ratio of 55:19. I note that Blackley was a starter there; however, since he's out of options, I imagine he would likely be slotted into the bullpen. Much the same - out of options, but coming off a decent winter - goes for Juan Gutierrez, although any signing of Tom Gordon will make things very tight. Let's do the math there.

We have four relief spots locked down: Qualls, Peña, Rauch and Shoeneweis. I imagine Petit is there too: out of options, having been in the majors the past three seasons, and with the arrival of Garland, he won't be in the rotation. So that's five relievers, and Gordon would be the sixth, leaving just one spot for Gutierrez or Blackley, with the other being exposed. The alternative is going with 13 pitchers, and 12 position players - but we have 13 of the latter under contract already: eight starters, plus a bench of Montero, Skelton, Ojeda, Byrnes and Clark.

One possible option there looks to have vanished: there'll be no trade with the Red Sox for Montero,  since Jon Heyman reports Boston have reached agreement with Jason Varitek on a one-year contract with a second option year. He joins Josh Bard behind the plate at Fenway, and presumably closes the door on them trading a pitching prospect for our backup catcher this season. Unless something else crops up, seems we'll be going with three - Snyder, Montero and Skelton - on Opening Day. Juggling that's going to be fun, though word is, that Skelton has already started taking ground-balls down in Tucson, so may see time at second-base.

And with that, I'm off to enjoy the weekend. Back on Sunday: residents of Arizona have probably forgotten, since there's been virtually no mention of it at all in the local media, but I believe there's a football game going on in Florida that day...

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