Now, after enduring intense fan and media scrutiny when failing to live up to his superstar contract, the 43-year-old future Hall of Famer will at least be able to grow back his famous mullet while he lives out his baseball golden years. Johnson grinned from ear to ear at the press conference where he was reintroduced to his former team, as the Arizona Diamondbacks reacquired the lefty from the Yankees for cash considerations, reliever Luis Vizcaino and three prospects: pitchers Ross Ohlendorf and Steven Jackson, along with shortstop Alberto Gonzalez.
Johnson revoked his no-trade clause, and the Diamondbacks signed Johnson to a two-year, $26 million extension through 2008.
In 2004, Johnson demanded a trade to New York after six seasons in Arizona so he could win another World Series. Johnson was brought aboard to pitch like an ace, but he struggled in the Bronx while fighting through back and shoulder problems in a tumultuous campaign.
Johnson now returns to the team for which he compiled a 103-49 record, won four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards (1999-2002), threw a perfect game and helped defeat his newest former team with a dominant performance in the 2001 World Series.
Although Johnson is recovering after undergoing surgery in October to repair a herniated disk in his lower back, Arizona concluded from the results of the required trade physical that Johnson could be rejuvenated if he maintains his rehab progress.
Johnson looked both physically and mentally bothered in New York, and his 34-19 record over two seasons there was mostly a product of great run support. His 5.00 ERA last season showed his penchant for creating problems for himself early in ballgames. In New York, Johnson compiled two of his three highest single-season totals of home runs allowed (a career-high 32 in 2005 and 28 last season). He pitched through the pain in his injured back as the bite in his slider continued to decline with his health problems.
Table: Randy Johnson Statistics (1999-2004 with Arizona)
Note: In 2003, a knee injury put Johnson on the DL for roughly half of the season and limited him to 18 starts.
Table: Randy Johnson Statistics (2005-2006 with the New York Yankeees)
The Yanks' rotation loses some wear and tear, and looks to pan out with starters like Chien-Ming Wang, returning former ace Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Japanese import Kei Igawa and a "healed" Carl Pavano (back). This increases the odds of wunderkind starting pitcher Philip Hughes making his major league debut this summer, with Humberto Sanchez and Tyler Clippard to possibly follow him within the next year. The sinkerballer Ohlendorf could project as either a No. 3 starter or a setup man, according to several early scouting reports.
The Diamondbacks will likely field some young guns in the everyday lineup, including shortstop Stephen Drew, first baseman Conor Jackson and outfielder Carlos Quentin. Johnson gives them another starter with (immense) playoff experience while their offense matures. They will boast a rotation with reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, Johnson, Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis and Edgar Gonzalez. The D-Backs still have highly rated young pitchers such as Micah Owings, who will most likely start the season at Triple-A Tuscon; Dustin Nippert, who is currently on the 40-man roster; and reliever Brandon Medders, who will most likely set up closer Jose Valverde.
If healthy, Johnson could improve in 2007 if he follows a recent trend: senior citizens excelling in the Senior Circuit. Recent starters, including free agent Roger Clemens, the New York Mets' Pedro Martinez and free agent David Wells, who's expected to finalize a deal with the San Diego Padres by the end of January, have proven more than serviceable in the National League after being traded from the American League.
Since he's 20 wins away from 300, Johnson might pitch through his remaining contract, which would pretty much guarantee that he reaches the milestone.
In keeper leagues, Johnson is a year-by-year case, and any competent keeper manager would know not to invest too much in him at this point in his career. In single-season leagues, you might be able to snag him in the middle rounds, as he no longer projects as an elite starter. It's still uncertain whether or not Johnson will be ready by the season opener. Pay close attention to his rehab updates in order to gauge his draft position.
Despite moving to a hitters' park in Chase Field, Johnson's numbers should improve thanks to the elimination of the designated hitter. The Unit's earned run average should take a welcome drop barring health issues while he increases his strikeout total. Johnson needs his back to be healthy to produce enough movement on his best strikeout pitch and control at-bats. If he continues to hang his slider, then fantasy managers can expect the same problems he had in 2006.
If healthy, Johnson should retain at least a fraction of the skill that has elevated him above his competition over his illustrious career. Fantasy owners should look for Johnson to approach 15 wins in 200-plus innings, with an ERA in the 4.30-4.50 range and 180 strikeouts, with 200 a possibility.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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