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December 22, 2004

Death of a Three-Way
by Larry Mahnken

Just like last offseason's A-Rod fiasco, the media's done a pretty poor job covering the Randy Johnson trade. They ran too fast with preliminary reports, trying deperately to be first rather than being accurate. After the Dodgers filed some paperwork regarding the trade early yesterday morning, the media reported that the trade had been sent to the Commissioner's Office, that it was done. If this report was accurate, it would be a mere formality for Selig to approve the trade, so this would have been an appropriate time to evaluate the trade.

Of course, the media had been evaluating the trade ever since the first reports came out about it, even while the teams were denying that the reports were accurate. Hey, it was something to write about, and writing early gave the media a chance to write about it a few dozen times. I can appreciate that.

But in the end, it didn't happen, because the Dodgers weren't happy with how the deal left them. They got some prospects, and moving Shawn Green's big contract out of town freed up some cash, and freed up right field for J.D. Drew, and first base for Hee Seop Choi. They were able to lose the Acevedish Kaz Ishii, and got a decent replacement for Yhency Brazoban in Mike Koplove. And despite his youth and quality, Brad Penny's injury situation made Javier Vazquez a better bet. And therein lies the rub, because in the end Javy didn't want to go to Los Angeles, and when he refused to report to Los Angeles promptly for a physical examination, the Dodgers took the opening and pulled out.

So, that's the end of that. The Dodgers might get back in on the deal if a seperate trade can be worked out to send Vazquez somewhere else and bring Los Angeles something acceptable in return, but the Dodgers don't plan to work the phones on a trade they don't feel they need to make.

It's more likely that the Yankees will find another partner for their menage-a-trois, and I think they will. The fact that the Yankees were able to almost make the trade lends credence to the rumor that Johnson will only accept a trade to the Yankees. The fact that it was Moorad who called the Yankees to restart talks, and not the other way around, indicates that the Diamondbacks are looking to move Johnson out this offseason. This trade fell apart not because the Diamondbacks weren't satisfied, but because the other trade partner, the Dodgers, weren't. One thing it did was lay out the parameters for an acceptable trade from the Diamondbacks' point of view. The Yankees are in better position for this trade now than they were before the failed attempt was agreed to. They now know that this deal can happen, and they can get their man. Now all they need is a new third team.

And I think they'll find one. You may wonder why other teams would want to help the Yankees, but the way they're viewing it, they're helping themselves -- the Yankees are going to find some team to work with, and that team will get the benefits of the deal (remember, the Dodgers were the team that made out the best in the previous proposal), and if you sit out, you'll get nothing. So, it's in every team's best interest to try and get their fingers in the pot, and get something out of it for themselves.

Of course the trade might not happen at all, that's always a possibility. But unlike the A-Rod trade last year, which came down the Boston's refusal to pay for A-Rod's contract, this just comes down to players, and they're obviously out there. What's most puzzling of all is that the Diamondbacks were making out the worst of the three teams in the previous trade, and will likely do so again in whatever form the trade ultimately takes. They seem to be convinced that they will contend this year, but at the same time don't want to keep Johnson around. So they made a deal which gives them talent for 2005, but hurts them in the long-term. They'd really be better off trading Johnson for Duncan and Navarro, and spinning Vazquez off for prospects than they would be making the type of deal they eventually will.

But then, the Diamondbacks' front office has never been the most skilled in the game. They've succeeded in the past in large part through luck and the willingness to spend money to add proven players. On-field success doesn't necessarily indicate front office skill, nor does on-field failure necessarily indicate a lack of it.

So, the Yankees are stuck without the Big Unit for now, and will have to go back to work to try and get things patched together.

At the same time, they're working on filling the black hole of defensive ineptitude that has been center field. Carlos Beltran and Scott Boras met with Steinbrenner yesterday, the first major step of the courtship. If the Yanks can snag Beltran, they'll be making a huge addition to their team. Simply getting Bernie Williams' glove off the field can mean four or more extra wins a year for the team.

But there is a disturbing possibility. With J.D. Drew off the market, there are no great options left in center. There are no great options left for starting pitching, either. If they can't get Beltran and they can't get Johnson, they may be left with their pants down, and suddenly not look nearly as strong in 2005 as we were all anticipating.