Unit wants to savor time with Giants
Johnson realizes 2009 could be swan song to his Hall of Fame career
SAN FRANCISCO -- If 2009 is Randy Johnson's final Major League campaign, he intends to cherish it.The "Big Unit," known through most of his 21-year career as a glowering, intimidating 6-foot-10 presence on the mound, won't necessarily change his demeanor when he's pitching. But he sounded ready to share the camaraderie with his new Giants teammates -- especially if they're the last ones he'll have. "I'm not going to say I'm done because I haven't even started the year," Johnson said on a conference call Saturday, one day after signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Giants. But the 45-year-old acknowledged, "It could be my last season. ... I probably want to enjoy it a little more and be surrounded by people who are enjoying it as well." Johnson believes that the Giants can achieve the feat that would please him and his teammates most: A National League West title. The Giants have endured four consecutive losing seasons, but Johnson noted that he witnessed the type of turnaround San Francisco aspires to in 1999, when he helped the Arizona Diamondbacks win the division with a 100-62 record after they finished 65-97 in their inaugural season the year before. "I foresee that possibility and the likelihood that would happen," Johnson said, adding that competing in a "weaker NL West" could assist the Giants. Giants management is equally aware of the West's vulnerability. Arizona, Colorado and San Diego have done little or nothing to improve themselves. Reigning division champion Los Angeles retains its core of young, talented position players but must restock its starting rotation due to possible free-agent defections and hasn't yet re-signed late-season catalyst Manny Ramirez. Lacking a potent offense, the Giants are flawed themselves. Having resisted offers of corner infielders for Jonathan Sanchez, general manager Brian Sabean hinted that he might at least listen to trade proposals involving the left-hander, now that Johnson's aboard.
"We're going to have to be open-minded," Sabean said, although he repeated that he wouldn't obtain a player who's eligible for free agency after 2009.Waiting until Spring Training also could be an option for the Giants, who'll know by then whether left-hander Noah Lowry will have sufficiently recovered from two forearm surgeries. If Lowry's fit, Sanchez would be bumped from the rotation into the bullpen and could be expendable. If the Giants can't upgrade their offense, they'll rely more heavily on pitching. That partly explained why they pursued Johnson, the 295-game winner who finished 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA for Arizona last season. Maybe, Sabean reiterated, the Giants can compensate for the offensive shortcomings with pitching prowess. Johnson joins a starting rotation that already features fellow Cy Young Award winners Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito, along with the richly skilled Matt Cain and Sanchez. "That will be exciting to play with them, learn from them and hopefully teach a little bit as well," Johnson said. Zito, for one, was thrilled. "I'm eager to play with arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time," Zito said through his publicist, Kathy Jacobson. "I have enjoyed watching Randy from the opposing dugout for years and am excited to be around him on a daily basis. I always wanted to play with a multi-Cy Young Award winner and now that has happened." Johnson sounded ready to impart one particular nugget of wisdom: Never feel satisfied, even after winning a Cy Young Award. This could prove useful to Lincecum, the reigning NL winner, and Zito, who captured the AL Cy Young Award with Oakland in 2002. Having captured five Cy Youngs, Johnson definitely knows what he's talking about. "Don't ever be content after winning a Cy Young," he said. "You never know when you've had your best year."
Johnson added that he made this observation to Brandon Webb after the right-hander won the NL Cy Young Award in 2006. In two seasons since then, Webb has won 40 games.Manager Bruce Bochy relishes the thought of the Giants' younger pitchers taking cues from Johnson's drive -- which he'll certainly maintain as he pursues his 300th career victory. Cain and Lincecum, both 24, and Sanchez, 26, should particularly benefit from Johnson's example. "It can't help but rub off on people," Bochy said. Johnson, whose renowned fastball still travels in the low-90-mph range, might be as spry as any Giants pitcher. Having spent his previous two offseasons recovering from back surgeries, he has focused on conditioning instead of rehabilitating this winter. That also bodes well for the Giants, who Johnson selected after fielding interest from a dozen teams, by his count. When Johnson gets some free time next year, the Walnut Creek, Calif., native and 1982 Livermore High School graduate might even revel in his Bay Area roots. He hinted at visiting places like his Little League field at Bear Park near Mendenhall School in Livermore, situated across the bay from San Francisco. "It'll be a lot of fun," Johnson said, reiterating the theme of his chat.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.