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Josh Johnson and the Giants

Thearon W. Henderson

Josh Johnson is Matt Cain at a garage sale. The agent put a handwritten sign on him. "WORKS FINE." Danged if that price isn't tempting. Could save you a lot of money. Could be the best thing you've ever bought.

Let me tell you something about garage sales, though. They're usually put on by a bunch of filthy liars. And everything they own is crawling with bedbugs. One time, as a kid, I came home with a Sega CD system. Sign read "WORKS FINE." I was going to get high on Fun Dip and play Ecco the Dolphin until my mom flipped the breakers to get me to stop.

It didn't WORK FINE. It was done busted. They should have put a sign on it that read "HERE, YOU THROW THIS OUT." To this day, I have never once played Ecco the Dolphin. And it keeps me up at night.

I'll tell you what I did, though. I played Link to the Past for the 43rd time. Maybe Rampart. Maybe Gradius III. Point is, I had options. I bought the Sega CD with my own money, and I knew there was a possibility it wasn't going to work. But I took the risk because I had plenty of things to do without that specific game system.

In this analogy, the Giants have a stick and some dental floss. There were days where a stick and dental floss would have been all I needed. You can play Bridge Over the River Kwai with G.I. Joes or something. But more often than not, a stick and floss wouldn't have been enough. You would have been screwed. The Giants would be there with a stick and dental floss, thinking about how they could have spent that $15 on a real toy instead of a broken Sega CD.

Johnson is the highest-risk, highest-reward pitcher on the market, at least when talking only about 2014. There's a chance that he's his 2010 or 2011 self, which means he would be one of the better power right-handers in the game. There's also a chance that he pitches 50 bad innings, and the slack is picked up by Yusmeiro Petit or Edwin Escobar.

The comparison that sticks in my head is Ben Sheets with the A's in 2010, who signed for $10 million after missing 2009 with elbow surgery. When healthy, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball and a perfect fit for the Coliseum. But he made 20 iffy starts for the A's that year, and 29 total for the rest of his career. It was a risk worth taking, but it blew up in the A's face.

Johnson is the kind of risk that a team with other options should take. The Cardinals, or something. A team with majors-ready pitching at the upper levels, or quality swing men in the bullpen. Maybe you think the Giants are that team, considering their best prospects are mostly strike-throwers, and they'll be at Double-A next year. If so, take the chance on Johnson. He's dripping with upside, and his velocity is still in the mid 90s.

Here's where I'd suggest the Giants target less risky pitchers instead. Except every pitcher on the market is risky. Bronson Arroyo's old, and so is Tim Hudson. Bartolo Colon is old and out of shape. Roy Halladay and Johan Santana probably aren't going to be good again. Matt Garza wants too much money, and he has a sketchy injury history. Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez were considered duds at this time last year. Scott Baker, Shaun Marcum, and Colby Lewis are all recovering from serious injuries. You can set up scenarios where all of these pitchers suck.

Stay in shape, Yusmeiro. Keep the focus.

Considering the Giants kind of have to plug their nose and take a risk or two anyway (to go with the already-risky Lincecum), heck, go nuts with Johnson. Why not go for upside? He'll be expensive for a year, and he might not pitch much, but he's the best of the outlet-store bunch.

A better, cross-positional comp might be Aubrey Huff. The Giants took a chance on him for a year, and it was beautiful. Forget about what happened after that. For one year, the Giants looked like the smartest kids in the class because they took a former All-Star and spit-shined him back to the way he was.

So Johnson is either Ben Sheets or Aubrey Huff. If you want to keep the analogies Giants-specific, replace Sheets with Randy Johnson. The Giants can't avoid the risks in the free-agent market. They just have to sift through various shades of risk. I wouldn't blame them if they thought Johnson was too risky, and that someone like Arroyo or Hudson gave them less of a chance of needing the Petit patch. But I'd be pretty excited about the signing. Johnson was mostly horrible last year. But if he's healthy enough to pass a physical, I'm fer him.

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