Yankees finally get their man

It was a long time in coming, but the Yankees finally got the ace they've always wanted: Randy Johnson.

Originally Published: December 30, 2004
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

This story originally aired on Thursday's SportsCenter.

The deal is in place and George Steinbrenner's decade-long pursuit of Randy Johnson is probably over. Commissioner Bud Selig must approve the deal, because of the $8-9 million the Yankees are sending in the package to Arizona, along with pitchers Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey and catching prospect Dioner Navarro. Johnson must also pass his physical exam, and he will negotiate a contract extension with the Yankees, probably in the range of $32 million over two years.

Randy Johnson
Randy Johnson led the majors with 290 strikeouts last season.

And then the Yankees would have the Big Unit, a pitcher who arguably would make the 2005 team one of the greatest collections of talent in history. The Yankees will field seven Hall of Fame candidates, from Johnson to Alex Rodriguez to Gary Sheffield to Mariano Rivera. Johnson will give the Yankees the type of power pitcher they've craved since the departure of Roger Clemens, the kind of pitcher they so desperately needed against the Boston Red Sox in October.

At age 41 last season, Johnson threw a perfect game and struck out 290 batters. The Yankees' single-season record for K's is 248, set by Ron Guidry in 1978. Johnson has won five Cy Young Awards, needs 54 more victories for 300 in his career, and he has thrown no fewer than 244 innings in six of his last seven seasons. Assuming he stays healthy, Johnson will take enormous pressure off the Yankees' bullpen, which held the staff together in 2004 and was worn down by the playoffs.

The presence of Johnson also will relieve Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and the other Yankees starters of significant stress. It is possible that the 2005 Yankee pitching staff, coupled with an already daunting offense which may add Carlos Beltran in the next nine days, will give Steinbrenner his greatest regular-season team since the '98 Yankees won 114 games.

But the acquisition of Johnson -- and perhaps Beltran -- will again underscore the huge financial gulf that has developed between the Yankees and other major league teams. The Yankees will spend nearly $100 million on their pitching staff in 2005, more than the entire payrolls of almost every other team. Their payroll is expected to soar over $200 million, and it may be that they will spend four times more than about half the teams in the majors. Should the Yankees' payroll reach $225 million, they can expect to pay about $232,000 per inning in 2005.

The Yankees abide by baseball's flawed financial system. Steinbrenner will dole out about $85 million in revenue sharing for 2004. Rather than pocketing his extra dollars, he is pouring it back into his franchise as he chases the Yankees' first championship trophy since 2000.

The Yankees' dynasty of Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez ended on Nov. 4, 2001, and the winning pitcher that night was Randy Johnson. Now the Yankees are hoping the Big Unit helps them start their next dynasty.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is a New York Times best seller and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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