Did The Giants Sign Big Unit Just To Sell Tickets?

The Giants hadn’t exactly made a splash in free agency this offseason, moving away from a potential trade for Jake Peavy and failing to add significant bats to a pretty anemic offense. But all that may have started to change late last night, when the Giants inked 21-year veteran Randy Johnson to shore up the back end of their rotation. According to the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, Johnson’s deal is for a single year at $8 million, with another $2.5 million up for grabs in achievable incentives.

randy johnson

(Johnson put on an extra layer of orange toner just for Giants fans.)

That’s right folks, the Big Unit has a job, and now he’ll have plenty of motivation for a handful of starts during the season, when he can take on his former employers, the Diamondbacks. Still, as much as Johnson’s debut in the Bay Area could be a significant bolster to San Francisco’s hopes to becoming a legitimate ball club again, it’s hard not to be a bit cynical about the Giants’ latest signing: Is it possible that they just want to get in on another record chase?

Consider this: the Giants’ attendance plummeted last year after the departure of Barry Bonds. While the chase to befoul Hank Aaron’s record drove people to AT&T Park in droves, despite a crappy product on the field, the lack of drama surrounding the team’s young core made San Francisco an utterly skippable baseball commodity. In the next offseason, the Giants go out and sign an aging pitcher on the verge of 300 wins.

Now consider what San Francisco will put on the field this year: 1) A budding Cy Young winner in Tim Lincecum (bound to put butts in the seats with “Wow, look at that curveball!” factor), 2) A guy chasing 300 wins in Randy Johnson (bound to put butts in the seats for nostalgia, historic reasons), 3) A young pitcher who carries high hopes of becoming an ace in Jonathan Sanchez (bound to put butts in the seats with “I want to be there when he turns the corner” factor), 4) A guy who just needs a little run support to near the level of elite in Matt Cain (meh, maybe a dead night) and 5) a guy with a preposterously large contract and more obvious mental insecurity than Terrell Owens in Barry Zito (amazingly, sure to sell tickets for pure car crash reasons).

That is a rotation that sells tickets, whether it wins games or not. Until Johnson locks down win 300, he’s sure to be one of the top draws in the big leagues. The move also may not be the best one for the franchise’s long term prospects — barring a trade of Cain or Sanchez, it’s going to be awful hard for any young pitchers to move up — but it certainly can’t hurt with the box office.