D’Backs Sign Garland. Why?

At the beginning of the off-season, the Arizona Diamondbacks reportedly offered Randy Johnson a contract for 2009 that would have paid him around $4 million or so. Realizing that it was a low-ball offer, he decided to pass, and the D’Backs told him to go find another employer. He ended up signing for $8 million to pitch for the SF Giants because he wanted to stay in the NL West and pitch close to his home in Arizona.

So, allow me to scratch my head and wonder why on earth the D’Backs would then turn around and guarantee that they’ll pay at least $8.75 million for Jon Garland. If you can figure out something that Garland is better at than the Big Unit, I’d love to know what it is.

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Garland posted a 4.76 FIP in 196 2/3 IP last year, which made him a 1.9 win pitcher. Since 2002, he’s been worth 19.4 wins, due to his durability and ability to throw strikes. Johnson posted a 3.76 FIP in 184 IP last year, which made him a 3.8 win pitcher. Since 2002, he’s been worth 34.9 wins, due to his awesomeness.

The highest FIP Johnson has ever posted, in his entire career, is 4.29. That was back in 1990, when he was still trying to figure out how to throw strikes in the big leagues. Since 1992, he’s posted a FIP over 4.00 just once, when it was 4.27 with the Yankees in 2006. He rebounded in 2007 with a 3.20 FIP, and was among the league leaders again last year. Jon Garland has never posted a FIP below 4.00. Ever. Only once, in 2005, did he post a FIP (4.24) that was lower than the worst of Johnson’s career. At his absolute best, Jon Garland is worse than Randy Johnson at his absolute worst.

Deciding that you want Jon Garland instead of Randy Johnson is a disastrous decision. Yes, Johnson is old, but he’s still an excellent major league pitcher. Garland is a #5 starter whose best skill is not getting hurt.

In a market where good pitchers are signing for bargain rates, the D’Backs just paid non-bargain rates for a bad pitcher. Congratulations, Arizona, you’ve officially screwed up your entire offseason.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


50 Responses to “D’Backs Sign Garland. Why?”

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  1. GuyinNY says:

    I think you’re grossly underrating the risk inherent in a pitcher Johnson’s age, both in terms of his skills declining and his potential inability to last the duration of the season. The Big Unit may have been a better pitcher last season, but a potential injury to him would expose the D-Backs’ relatively weak starting pitching depth. In the case of Garland, you’re getting a pretty sure bet for IP, both on a start to start basis as well as over the course of the season. For a team in contention, it’s one less headache when every little ailment could be the difference between watching the playoffs and participating in them.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      100 innings of Randy Johnson and 100 innings of various replacement level starters is more valuable than 200 innings of Jon Garland. The break-even point is about 90 innings. There’s no reason to think Johnson can’t throw 90+ innings in 2009.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Too many people underrate the awesomeness of pitchers even with the supposed risk. 120 innings of Ben Sheets is still usually insanely productive, moreso than 180 innings of someone like Garland. That the DBacks shouted all winter long about only have 4-5 mil to spend, and then signing Garland to 8-9 is just irresponsible.

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      • Levski says:

        The question is, 100 innings of which version of Randy Johnson?

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      • philosofool says:

        I believe the point of this article is that it doesn’t matter which version of Randy Johnson you get: it’s better than Garland has ever been. Couple that with the fact that the most reasonable thing to expect from Johnson is about 4.0 park adjusted FIP, and I think that you have totally missed the point. With the exception of 2006, when he was merely good, Johnson has in every single season been among the best pitchers alive, including last year. So which version of Johnson are the D’Backs supposed to be worried about getting?

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      • Levski says:

        “So which version of Johnson are the D’Backs supposed to be worried about getting?”

        The real life, skin and bones and tons of hair, pissed off and growling version?

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  2. Mike Ketchen says:

    I use to think the Dbacks were a smart front office. This is just another example of me wondering what the hell they are doing. And thanks for pointing out that people are still putting way to much in “taking the ball every fifth day” Think about how different this team looks in a short series now with the innings eater Garland, compared to a Webb, RJ, Haren trio. They could literally be terrorfying.But hey again “he is durable” problem is, “he also sucks”

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  3. David Pinto says:

    It seems clear that the DBacks believe Johnson was not going to pitch very much or very well for them in 2009. If they spend $8 million on Randy and get 20 innings, that’s a bad deal. As your graphs show, Garland isn’t terrible; he at least keeps his walks low.

    It could also be the DBacks didn’t want Johnson for different reasons, and this was their way of driving him away, like the Yankees did with Joe Torre.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      I agree that those were probably their reasons, David. Some combination of “he’s old and a jerk” led to them not wanting him back.

      If I’m an Arizona fan, though, I’d be much more interested in them dealing with the Big Unit’s attitude and winning than getting along with Jon Garland as they fall out of the face in August.

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      • Levski says:

        I agree with Mr. Pinto here. People would probably get a much different perspective on the situation if they got their heads out of their spreadsheets and spent a few months dealing with Randy Johnson, whether it’s as a GM, a manager, or just a teammate.

        And while Mr. Cameron’s right that AZ fans should want RJ over Garland (as has been the case with this particular AZ fan for the entire offseason), AZ fans only get to see RJ once every five days and they don’t have to deal with his prima donna act for 6 months.

        Finally, there’s no guarantee that RJ would even be pitching when the Dbacks fall out of the race in August–just like you can’t put on a straight face and claim that Garland makes the Dbacks much inferior than they would’ve been with RJ, so inferior, in fact, that they’d definitely be out of the race with Garland but not with RJ.

        The biggest point that people seem to be missing here is this: the Dbacks financial situation is a lot different now than it was when they first negotiated with RJ. At the time they approached him, they really had only about $3m planned for a starter, and that’s what they used as an opening bid, if you will. His agents took offense to that, and RJ was soon gone to the Giants. In fact, I don’t even think the Dbacks were ever given the choice, or option, to counter the Giants proposal.

        Now, about 2 months later, the Dbacks seem to have extra $3m to spend on top of the $3m they originally had budgeted; maybe that money came from them being able to fill other holes more cheaply than they thought, or maybe they shifted some of the money from their draft budget (as they won’t be getting first round picks for Cruz or Hudson this year, and they didn’t even offer arbitration to Dunn) to their free agent budget. But the big point that seems lost on people here is that, even though the Dbacks have the money now, RJ is no longer an option.

        If he were still a free agent now, and the Dbacks signed Garland instead, I can understand the vitriol. But I see a whole bunch of crying over spilled milk… which is maybe what passes for first class analysis these days. To me, the reality seems to be that AZ didn’t think it could afford RJ, or any comparable starter, 2 months ago, because the team didn’t have the money and starters were still expensive; RJ signed with SF; and now, the Dbacks have a bit of extra cash and saw the opportunity to add relatively cheap insurance to the back of their rotation.

        And they are getting killed for that?

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      • Levski says:

        One more point… in all fairness to the Dbacks, they did increase their original $3m offer to RJ. As Tracy Ringolsby wrote recently:

        “Randy Johnson headed to San Francisco when the Diamondbacks tried to re-sign him for $6 million.”

        http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2009/jan/22/ringolsby-economy-impacting-payrolls/

        Say whatever you want about the Dbacks thoughts on Randy Johnson, but they did stretch the payroll to bring him back. And despite all of his talk about giving the home team a discount, he jumped to the Giants for $2m in guaranteed cash.

        And I do think $6m was the limit of what the Dbacks could afford to spend on a free agent starting pitcher this offseason.

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      • Matt B. says:

        I’m in a 16 team simulation (DMB) league, with 20 keepers per season. RJ was kept, Garland was not. Look into that what you will…

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  4. alskor says:

    “If you can figure out something that Garland is better at than the Big Unit, I’d love to know what it is.”

    Staying healthy…?

    Of course your point still stands… Even 120 IP of Johnson and 80 of replacement level would outproduce 200 of Garland I would wager. There is something to be said for staying healthy, though… but I have no doubt the DBacks would have been better off just paying the Unit. They got backed into a corner waiting for the market to shake out… Im not a big fan of what Josh Byrnes has been doing recently. I have to assume his hands have been tied by ownership w/regards to finances somehow. These moves are very uncharacteristic. Trading good young players for Dunn and then not offering him arb…? Seems like theyve lowballed a lot of guys this offseason, too. I wonder to what degree the Moorad/ownership issues are restricting baseball ops…

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  5. Jeff says:

    Nevermind that Garland is a Type A free agent, that they wouldn’t risk offering arbitration to Dunn or the numerous employees Arizona let go at the start of the off season who all must now be cringing at such a show of extravagance for a pitcher who is worse their previous alternative, Yuse Petit. I am guessing that Scherzer’s shoulder must be far worse than they are letting on and this is a panic signing. Not a good sign for D’back fans.

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    • Levski says:

      Garland is a type B free agent. And Garland is worse than Petit in the same way that Jon Papelbon was once worse than Clint Nageotte — in a galaxy far far away, hidden in a figment of someone’s imagination.

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  6. mymrbig says:

    Excellent post Dave, I love the particularly colorful color commentary you employed today. Must still be riding a high after the Heilman trade…

    Anyway, as many good moves as Josh Byrnes has made, he has made a couple seriously bad moves that have had major ramifications.
    (1) Extending Eric Byrnes. I tend to think Byrnes is a little underrated, but $10 million a year really crippled the D-Backs financial flexibility, plus the signing blocked Carlos Quentin (forcing his trade).
    (2) A related bad move was selling low on Quentin after an injury-riddled 2007.
    (3) I liked the Dunn acquisition as a playoff push, but not offering him arbitration was foolish. I understand the D-Backs just didn’t have the cash if he had accepted, but there was a <1% chance of him accepting (especially at that point in the offseason when he still had dreams of a long, lucrative contract).
    (4) I didn’t like him trading away Alberto Callaspo, but in the D-Backs defense that dude has some serious personal issues. Still, he has a nice contact bat and plays plus defense everywhere in the infield.

    Of course, he has made some good moves (trading Valverde’s hefty salary for a cheaper and equally effective Chad Qualls, trading for Chris Young, the Haren trade was good from a win-now perspective). But before the Byrnes extension I would have rated him amongst the top 10 GM’s in baseball. As far as I’m concerned, he has fallen a couple notches in the last 18 months or so.

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  7. tom s. says:

    Felipe Lopez Fielding Value (2006/07/08): -15.1/-7.5/-5.6
    Conor Jackson Fielding Value (2006/07/08): -5.8/-0.3/6.6
    Stephen Drew Fielding Value (2006/07/08): -4.0/-11.6/-12.7
    Mark Reynolds Fielding Value (2007/08): -4.6/-2.6

    John Garland’s GB rate: 49.9%

    Just imagine.

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    • Levski says:

      This really is the biggest argument against signing someone like Garland, a groundball pitcher with low K rate who’ll be heavily dependent on his infield defense. Conor will likely play at 1b only vs. LHP, while Tracy will get the starts there vs RHP, but I don’t think there’ll be much of a difference defensively between the two. The combo of Lopez and Drew, in particular, could be brutal if they are really bad defensively, and there’s a good chance that they will be. One would hope that with decent luck and league average BABIP, Garland will give the team ERA+ of around 100 and be durable enough to put up 200 innings…

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  8. Subrata Sircar says:

    This makes a lot of sense if you’ve got Mark Ellis or Orlando Hudson manning 2B; Garland will munch innings, generate ground balls and not walk a lot of guys. This skill set gets more valuable as your infield defense gets better and more fly balls find their way out of the park.

    If the Dbacks put their best defense behind him when he pitches (perhaps even benching Drew those days), they’ll maximize the value of their investment.

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  9. OsandRoayals says:

    A) Garland is a type-B free agent
    B) Essentially Garland will cost 7.25 or 8.75M depending on how he’s bought out according to ESPN. If Garland declines it’ll be 7.25M
    I think they should have brought Johnson back, but it seems to have been slightly out of their price range. The D-backs obviously expect another injury-marred season like 2007, maybe less effective then that.
    The choice to bring garland in, indicates a lack of trust in their potential replacements. They seem to be assuming that Scherzer will either have an injury or more likely that they will be limiting his innings after he completed only a little over 100. Petit and maybe a few other prospects will probably join the rotation mid-year after inning-limits or injuries.
    Using FIPS for Garland isn’t accurate since he does depend on the defense behind him for outs. This may be dangerous for the d-backs as they may not be the strongest defensive team out there

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  10. OsandRoayals says:

    Oh and I didn’t mention that Garland is a decent groundball pitcher, last year at 49%, which will play well at chase and coors.
    Petit and other prospects are probably on inning-limits too so the d-backs may have actually needed a garland type although they probably did overpay to an extent

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  11. KingKirkpatrick says:

    I don’t like the way that every bad move turns into “Congrats Arizona, you just ruined your entire offseason” or other insane exaggerations. Yes, this is a bad deal..but the constant portrayal of every inefficient move as being a complete disaster that derails the organizaiton for years is getting old.

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    • Levski says:

      Obviously you haven’t followed how Ned Colletti has turned the Dodgers into the bottom feeders of the NL West. And he’s had 3 consecutive ruined offseasons to boot!

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    • philosofool says:

      I’d say you’ve rather exaggerated the meaning of “ruined your offseason” which I presume is a claim about a single offseason, not several years of the franchise. That said, the point seems right to me: the club says they don’t have a lot of money and they need one reasonably priced starting pitcher. Then they go and spend the money they have for that one pitcher on a back of the rotation starter? Doesn’t sound like something mischaracterized by “ruined.”

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      • Levski says:

        Leaving aside failed RJ negotiations (a situation that is/was a lot more complicated than Cameron seems aware of, or willing to consider in more detail), which “front of the rotation” starters would you rather get for $6m on if you were Josh Byrnes? AJ Burnett? Sabathia? Lowe? Well then, we agree! It’s really dumb that the Dbacks couldn’t get CC for $6m next year.

        The other thing that I don’t get is that, if you take fangraphs’ own Value Calculations, Garland was worth about $8.6m last year–and he had a bad season. Assuming a better season from him, a likely scenario given a bit better luck and the switch to the NL — would he not be worth at least $8.6m as well, yet be paid only $6m? So the Dbacks would actually be getting a bargain. Or should we not look at those Values like that? Maybe they are only useful when they allow us to point out a GM’s stupidity?

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      • KingKirkpatrick says:

        Yes, the point that it is a bad deal is a good one. It is a terrible deal, but giving a little bit too much money to a mediocre, but durable starting pitcher is not the disaster that some seem to think it is. Not a good move. Nothing has been “ruined.” It’s not just this article, it’s many throughout sabermetric circles. One bad deal seems to be the end of the world to a lot of these people. I love the current analysis going on in baseball, but there is a HUGE tendency to overreact to financial inefficency or questionable decisions and act like a GM is completely incapable of succeeding b/c of a bad deal or that a team is devastated by spending a little too much money on a player when another player got paid a little bit less for the same production.

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      • philosofool says:

        I’ll just repeat myself and point out that no one called this the end of the world. They called it stoopid. The D’Backs were unwilling to serve Johnson more than ~$4M and now they’re spending twice that for half the pitching. It’s not sensible and I live in Arizona and the D’Backs weren’t willing to offer Randy a reasonable number for this time.

        I’d rather listen to Randy grumble than watch Garland be mediocre.

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  12. Xeifrank says:

    It sounds like I am in the minority that thinks this is a good deal for the Diamondbacks. Garland’s 1.9 WAR was in the AL, and should get a 1/2 win bump in the NL, narrowing the gap between Garland and RJ’s 2008 season. I think you have to take into consideration and age decline for RJ off of his very good 2008 season, which narrows the gap even more. Yes, perhaps they should’ve signed RJ, but once they did not they had to move on and Garland at around $8Mil per year is pretty good for a slightly above league average pitcher, which is what he will be in the NL West. He is by no means a #5 pitcher, and if he is, he’s probably the top two or three in all of baseball. I’d slot him in at #4 ahead of Scherzer for the 2009 season. Garland is not a “sexy” pitcher and he gets maligned due to his low strike-out rate. I for one, applaud the move.
    vr, Xeifrank

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  13. Mike Ketchen says:

    I believe the point Dave was making was that they pretty much said they didnt have 8 million for a good starter, then they turned around and found the same money for a worse starter?

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    • Levski says:

      Well, technically, they only found $3m now on top of the $3m they had for a starter then, like I explained above, and that’s what they gave Garland for 2009 ($6m). And they found the extra $3m about 2 months after RJ had signed a deal with the Giants. Dave was making a point, but his point has one major problem–the asynchronous nature of the two transactions. Aside from that, those are some great graphs.

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  14. Jacob Jackson says:

    Another thing I haven’t seen anyone mention is that Randy Johnson is likely to win his 300th game next year. More than any other team that could’ve signed, the Diamondbacks would’ve enjoyed the greatest PR benefit of that event happening in a Diamondbacks uniform.
    Each win is opportunity to reminisce about a World Series Championship, and Randy’s contribution to it.

    Those games are also guaranteed sell-outs on the calendar.

    Finally, I think that winning No. 300 in a D-Backs uniform, and retiring as a D-Back after ’09, would’ve guaranteed that Randy enters the Hall of Fame as the first D-Back.

    Can we even calculate the long-term, third-order financial benefits of these things? Isn’t having a retired number on your outfield wall, 5 more guaranteed sell-outs in ’09, and your org’s first Hall of Famer worth several million dollars?

    Clearly this was not a situation in which to pinch pennies (or even a million or two, as it were).

    Ironically, they paid more for his replacement anyway.

    To me, that’s worth dealing with an extra year of surly, hard-to-deal-with Randy Johnson, despite David’s excellent point well-taken.

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    • Levski says:

      I don’t recall the last time a Randy Johnson start sold out a game. And, given AZ’s luck, he’d win 300 on the road… or better yet, win 300 in AZ while in Giants uniform. But RJ’s ability to draw sell out crowds is hugely overrated and overstated…

      And of course he’ll go into the Hall of Fame as a Dback, even if he doesn’t win 300 in a Dbacks uni. Which hat would he wear instead? A Mariners hat? Please. The guy won 4 Cy Youngs, a WS and WS MVP, and pitched a perfect game in AZ. I wonder which team’s hat he’ll end up wearing in Cooperstown…

      Finally, how did the Dbacks pay more for the replacement? They are paying Garland $6m (plus potential buy-outs in 10), which the Giants are paying Johnson $8m in guaranteed money and $5m in reasonably reachable incentives? How are the two numbers comparable? You don’t need third-order financial calculations for this one…

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      • Jacob Jackson says:

        Levski, the buyouts are guaranteed money. You need to factor them into your accounting, just as Dave has in his post.

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      • Jacob Jackson says:

        From mlbtraderumors, via ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick:

        Garland gets $6.25MM in ’09 and the 2010 option for $10MM has a $2.5MM buyout if the D’Backs reject it. If Garland rejects it it’s a $1MM buyout. Bottom line: if he doesn’t return in 2010, he’ll have made either $7.25MM or $8.75MM for ’09.

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      • Levski says:

        Jacob, I saw this a few minutes ago. I’m guessing the Dbacks would’ve been open to a similar deal for RJ. As I just wrote above, it appears they did offer RJ $6m, but he went to SF instead. I think that, importantly, the buyout money comes from the Dbacks 2010 budget; they’re basically stretched to the limit this year.

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  15. Dbacks fan in Taiwan says:

    Using your Value Wins tool

    Jon Garland has 9.5 wins above replacement level,
    while Randy Johnson has 9.0 wins above replacement level

    So Garland is a more valuable pitcher than Johnson in recent years, plus a lot cheaper

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  16. Steve Shane says:

    You cant possibly be serious that you are going to ONLY compare johnson and garland on BB K HR [and IP] to determine which one is more valuable?

    once again, id wager that the diamondbacks fron office knows a tad more about baseball, both the effects on and off the field, than anyone here.

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  17. Jacob Jackson says:

    My apologies Levski, I hadn’t seen your subsequent post. Good insights about the buyout being “delayed money.”

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  18. Justin says:

    Could not agree more Dave and Eric

    And would Parkor really pitch at replacement level???
    140inn and 50-60inn of Parkor would be much better than 200 of Garland…..

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  19. Justin says:

    Parker** excuse me

    I know the kid is yound, but I would like to see him pitch a little but in the bigs this year, and Petit would be just fine for 50 inn

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  20. Justin says:

    Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment…..

    Granted the Dbacks should have gone another direction and preferably signed RJ, but is Garland truly awful?

    His FIP’s have been between 4.25 and 4.75, a little better than league average, and he was worth 1.8 wins last year, roughly around 8M, and the 3 previous years he was worth 3+ wins, which equates to 14+M.

    Obviouslly it is hard to watch Garland for 200inn, but maybe a change to the NL will help a bit, and now he gets to play in pitcher friendly parks, SD, SF, LA………

    It was not an awful signing for the money, but I do agree RJ would have been a better bet.

    So you can’t talk bad about the contract, but by all means question their motives and poor management…..(Tony Clark and the Garland signings for a team that has no money to spend)

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  21. JI says:

    Either Josh Byrnes was kick in the head by a mule, or the Diamondbacks must really really really hate Randy Johnson.

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  22. OsandRoayals says:

    Just thought it worth mentioning that Arizona seems to believe it was a mistake too if one looks at their MLB.com mouthpiece. Apparently they budgeted some money for 1st round draft picks but after not offering arbitration and assuming that one of their type-A free agents won’t bring them a firstrounder they found some money for garland
    http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090129&content_id=3784160&vkey=news_ari&fext=.jsp&c_id=ari

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  23. Levski says:

    Happy?

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  24. Chris says:

    I would like to say something in defense of Josh byrnes about the Eric Byrnes extension. When Eric got signed to that extension, he was having a great year, nobody could have known at the time that he was going to get hurt (even though he plays all-out and rough).

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  25. Levski says:

    So far, through 4 months…

    Randy Johnson, 17 GS, 91 2/3 IP, 4.81 ERA in a pitcher’s park, 1 DL Trip
    Jon Garland, 22 GS, 137 1/3 IP, 4.26 ERA in a hitter’s park, 1 Complete Game

    I suppose there’s no need to look at silly stats like ERA+ or WPA or VORP…
    Congratulations, Cameron, you’ve officially written just another pointless piece.

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  26. heyyoo says:

    “In a market where good pitchers are signing for bargain rates, the D’Backs just paid non-bargain rates for a bad pitcher. Congratulations, Arizona, you’ve officially screwed up your entire offseason.”

    Garland 1.9 WAR, 8.6 Million value, and counting

    Johnson 0.5 WAR, 2.1 Million value, and most definitely NOT counting.

    And the D Backs will get a player back from the Dodgers for Garland. The rest of their season went to shite, but this was a sound signing.

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