Saturday, April 5, 2008
THE SOMEONE ELSE'S
"The Big Unit" has returned---and for good.
Darwin GM Scott Hatfield, his eyes twinkling, confirmed that the ballclub has spent some serious money ($4 million, guaranteed), and assumed some serious risk, in signing 44-year-old lefthander Randy Johnson, who was spurned by every club in the league on Draft Day.
"We had room under the cap," Hatfield noted. "More importantly, we're bringing Randy back, and we are going to retire his number in a Darwin uniform. I'm happy to say that I drafted Randy back in 1989 when he was an unestablished Expos farmhand out of USC. The rest is history. When I formed BARB, he was one of the core members of my inaugural club, and this is his second--and last--tour of duty. The circle is complete."
Johnson, who is attempting to come back from two back surgeries since his last inning of work in a regular-season game, simply glowered, as if to say he could pitch forever if he wanted to. "I'm not ready yet to join the club," the towering southpaw said curtly to reporters. "When I'm ready, I'll let you know. I've got my pride, and I wouldn't be signing this contract if I didn't believe that I can get back to where I need to be."
The Finches also took a flyer on another USC product, oft-injured RHP Mark Prior, who came into BARB with so much promise but has missed most of the last three seasons. Prior agreed to a split contract that will pay him $680,000 in the event he is able to rejoin the big-league roster. Prior was, shall we say, quite a bit more friendly than his fellow Trojan, but laughed when asked about it. "I've known Randy since I was a freshman with Gillespie," Prior chuckled. "That's just Randy being Randy. His dedication and focus are an inspiration to guys like me."
Also signing with the Finches: veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who will instantly join the club's rotation and give the Unnatural Selections an inning-eater while they wait for Johnson, Prior, Smoltz, Kazmir and the rest of the Darwinian wounded to get healthy. "I'm not going to blaze it by ya," drawled Wakefield. "But then, I don't have to." Inititially, however, Wakefield will be assigned to AAA along with utility men Ryan Doumit and Mark Loretta, who will attempt to earn roles on the parent roster in the final week of spring training.
Darwin also announced that they were temporarily moving their minor-league base of operations to St. Francis, Kansas, which is widely believed to be the site of future BARB expansion, much to the distaste of Darwin's skeptical skipper, PZ Myers. "Everyone here seems to have a burning desire to dress up in monk's garb," puzzled Myers. "Don't they know that's just a fairy tale? Jee-bus!"