Jim Johnson Rumors

AL West Notes: Astros, Athletics, Johnson

The Astros have a perception problem, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes. The Astros missed out on top overall pick Brady Aiken and another top pick, Jacob Nix, because of a disagreement about Aiken’s health. During part of the time they might have been negotiating with Aiken, Drellich points out, GM Jeff Luhnow was on vacation with his family in Mexico. That might not have had any bearing on their ability to sign Aiken, Drellich notes, but it doesn’t look good, and the Astros generally don’t get the “benefit of the doubt” with such matters.

Drellich also takes a close look at each party’s motivations as the Astros and Aiken tried to negotiate. He points out that, if Aiken goes to junior college and reenters the draft next year, it will be hard for Aiken to top the $5MM the Astros offered, given that the Astros themselves will have the No. 2 overall pick as a result of losing him, along with their own standard first-round pick, which will also be one of the early ones. For a player to get $5MM is very difficult under the new bonus pool system, especially with the Astros taking two very early picks. Here’s more from the AL West.

  • Astros scouting director Mike Elias is disappointed with the way the draft signing deadline went, Drellich writes. “I haven’t been very happy about anything to do with it, because of just the unfortunate situation that I think all parties found themselves in,” says Elias. “It’s something that I think we, and everyone involved with, will look forward to ultimately having behind us at some point.” Add the failures to sign Aiken, Nix and Mac Marshall to top 2013 pick Mark Appel‘s poor performance, and it’s a tough time all-around for Elias.
  • The Athletics would like to trade reliever Jim Johnson before the trade deadline, John Hickey of IBABuzz.com writes. The A’s don’t want to just cut him and swallow the rest of his salary, and they’re also having trouble drumming up interest in him. Johnson is a pitcher without a role — the A’s have been using him in low-leverage situations given his struggles this season, but even that is a problem, since he isn’t a multi-inning pitcher.

AL West Notes: Preller, Gallo, Johnson, A’s

The AL West has three teams on pace for postseason play and is home to the two best records in baseball.  The 59-36 A’s hold a slim lead over the 57-37 Angels, while the Mariners’ 51-44 record gives them a 2.5 edge over the Royals and Blue Jays for the second AL wild card slot.  On the flip side, Houston (40-56) and Texas (38-57) hold the American League’s two worst records, with the Rangers’ eight-game losing streak dropping them to worst record in the game.

Here’s the latest from around the AL West…

  • Rangers assistant GM A.J. Preller will receive a second interview for the Padres‘ general manager job, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reports.  Of the dozen or so candidates known to have interviewed for the job, Preller is thought to be the first to receive a second meeting with San Diego’s upper management team.
  • Also from Fraley, he notes that the Rangers are projected to draw around 400,000 fewer fans than last season, and he speculates this drop in attendance could impact the club’s 2015 payroll.
  • Joey Gallo‘s power was the talk of yesterday’s Futures Game, and WEEI.com’s Alex Speier is already wondering how the Rangers prospect could have fallen to the 39th pick of the 2012 draft.  The Red Sox, in particular, had two bonus compensation picks plus their own first-rounder with Gallo still on the board and yet passed on him all three times (drafting Deven Marrero, Brian Johnson and Pat Light instead).
  • When Drew Pomeranz is ready to return to the Athletics‘ 25-man roster, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle hints that the A’s could make room by parting ways with Jim Johnson.  The A’s nearly dealt Johnson to the Marlins last month and there have been reports that Oakland would be willing to eat most of Johnson’s remaining salary (approximately $4.2MM) in a trade.  Johnson has been a major disappointment in his first season as an Athletic, posting a 6.18 ERA and losing his closer’s job to Sean Doolittle.
  • The Athletics‘ seven All-Stars took some very different paths to get to Oakland, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes, which is a tribute to how creatively the team has built its first-place roster.

AL Notes: Zimmer, Fowler, Castro, Johnson, Coliseum

The baseball world suffered a notable loss today with the passing of Rays senior advisor Don Zimmer. It would be impossible to honor Zimmer’s legacy adequately in a brief note, but suffice it to say that he has been said to have “come as close to seeing it all as a baseball man can possibly come.” And that was over a decade ago.

Here’s the latest out of the American League:

  • The Astros formally completed their acquisition of Dexter Fowler from the Rockies by picking up an additional $25K, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday via Twitter. While that sum is obviously of marginal import, the results of that swap remain fascinating to follow. Fowler has put up a fairly typical (if less powerful than usual) .257/.375/.356 line as Houston’s everyday center fielder. Meanwhile, Jordan Lyles (3.46 ERA through 69 innings) and Brandon Barnes (.295/.339/.390 through 116 plate appearances) have both been productive, but have cooled of late.
  • Astros backstop Jason Castro said today that he has only had preliminary talks regarding an extension, none of which have been recent, reports Drellich“It’s something you try not to think about obviously during the season, but you know, I would love to be a part of the Astros moving forward,” he said. “Obviously it’s an exciting tie, and we’ll see what happens moving forward.” Castro has cooled dowwn from his .835 OPS 2013, posting a .230/.306/.383 triple-slash through 206 plate appearances this season. He is earning $2.45MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility.
  • It was reported earlier today that the Athletics nearly shipped deposed closer Jim Johnson to the Marlins. Conflicting reports later emerged about the nature of Oakland’s intentions going forward, both via Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). While a rival rival executive told Rosenthal that the A’s were willing to eat all of Johnson’s remaining salary and had offered him to multiple clubs, an Oakland source later called that statement “a lie” and denied that Johnson was being shopped. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle later reported that the club would indeed be interested in moving Johnson “in the right deal,” and that the A’s might consider picking up most of the $6.5MM tab still owed on the 30-year-old righty.
  • Athletics co-owner Lew Wolff said recently that the club is close to inking a ten-year lease that would keep the team at the O.co Coliseum, Carolyn Jones of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. What that actually means is somewhat more difficult to assess, and Mark Purdy of the Mercury News breaks down what is known and what is yet to come. There is too much to cover to treat it sufficiently here, but the bottom line, according to Purdy, is that it is much too early to say that a new contract would put an end to the team’s efforts to find a new ballpark deal (let alone the possibility of that stadium landing in San Jose). Purdy further detailed the exceedingly complex situation in an earlier piece.


Marlins, A’s Nearly Completed Jim Johnson Trade Last Week

The Marlins raised some eyebrows by trading their Competitive Balance draft pick (No. 39 overall) to the Pirates last week in exchange for right-hander Bryan Morris and using the extra cash to sign Kevin Gregg. However, the team almost made an even larger acquisition, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, who reports that Miami nearly sent the pick to the A’s in exchange for fallen closer Jim Johnson.

Oakland was willing to make the deal, according to Rosenthal, and they were also willing to pay a chunk of the nearly $6.5MM remaining on Johnson’s salary, with Miami including another player and remaining on the hook for at least the $1.4MM total of the draft slot. Ultimately, however, the Marlins went a different route.

Rosenthal notes that the A’s aren’t shopping Johnson but were willing to move the right-hander when approached by the Marlins, who were “aggressively” pursuing bullpen help. The 30-year-old Johnson has disappointed in his first season with the A’s, who acquired him from the Orioles in the offseason.

After back-to-back 50-save seasons, Johnson has pitched to a 6.55 ERA in 22 innings and lost the closer’s job to Sean Doolittle. Johnson has seen his walk and strikeout rates trend in the wrong direction, but he’s also been plagued by a .390 BABIP. His ground-ball rate remains elite, and his velocity hasn’t declined, so the Marlins likely figured that he could rebound to something closer to his previous form with the O’s. Indeed, sabermetric ERA estimators such as FIP (3.65), xFIP (4.42) and SIERA (4.10) all feel that he’s been vastly better than his ERA indicates. A move to the National League likely would be of benefit as well.

Perhaps the Marlins felt that they’d prefer to save some money and take a chance on two relievers rather than one. They may have thought the player going back to Oakland in the proposed deal was too steep a price to pay in the end. Their ultimate line of thinking isn’t clear, but Rosenthal’s report does suggest that the 30-28 Marlins do feel they can compete even without the likes of Jose Fernandez in the rotation.


A’s, Jim Johnson Avoid Arbitration

6:45pm: Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Johnson received a $10MM salary (Twitter link).

6:36pm: The Athletics have avoided arbitration with closer Jim Johnson by agreeing to a one-year contract, the team announced on Twitter. Johnson is represented by Moye Sports Associates. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but the right-hander was projected to earn $10.8MM by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.

Johnson was acquired by the A's in exchange for Jemile Weeks in a salary dump with the Orioles. The right-hander's hefty arbitration price tag is driven by his Major League leading 101 saves over the past two seasons. Johnson also owns a 2.70 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 over the past three seasons, and his ground-ball rate hasn't dipped below last season's robust 58 percent since the 2010 campaign. He will inherit the ninth inning in Oakland following Grant Balfour's departure.

Johnson represents one of the most interesting arbitration cases in this year's class, as Swartz outlined in an Arbitration Breakdown piece in November. Because so few closers go year-to-year for as long as Johnson has, and because back-to-back 50-save campaigns are so rare, there were few comparables to use when crafting a projection for his 2014 salary. In fact, the best comparable for Johnson's 2014 arbitration case could be Johnson's own 2013 arbitration case, Swartz noted.

Oakland GM Billy Beane still has five remaining arbitration cases, as can be seen in MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker: Jed Lowrie, Craig Gentry, Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick and Luke Gregerson.


Orioles Notes: Free Agents, Johnson, Wolf, Feldman

The Orioles have been connected to some of the offseason's major free agent names but Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun isn't sure that the O's will be players for Shin-Soo Choo, Ubaldo Jimenez or Nelson Cruz.  Choo will be too costly and Jimenez will demand too many years, while Connolly has "not found anyone in the organization that endorses Cruz as a viable option" and lists several reasons why Cruz isn't a fit in Baltimore.  Here's some more from Camden Yards…

  • Jim Johnson asked the Orioles for a four-year contract worth $45MM-$50MM in extension talks earlier this winter, sources tell MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko.  An extension would've been one way for the O's to keep Johnson at a lower price rather than pay him a projected $10.8MM in arbitration, though obviously Johnson didn't have a bargain in mind with his demands.  The Orioles traded Johnson to the Athletics for Jemile Weeks on Tuesday.
  • The Orioles didn't attend Randy Wolf's workout and don't appear to have any interest in the veteran southpaw, Kubatko reports.  Wolf pitched in five games for Baltimore at the end of the 2012 season and then underwent Tommy John surgery that October, sidelining him for all of 2013.
  • Scott Feldman told Dan Connolly that he was "about 90 percent sure" the Orioles didn't make him a former offer.  “It’s really hard to get disappointed with the situation I am in, but I was at least expecting a little bit of interest from them. But it’s not like I’m mad or anything,” Feldman said in the wake of his three-year, $30MM deal with the Astros.  That third guaranteed year was likely the breaking point for the Orioles, as they had been rumored to only be interested in giving Feldman two years and an option, at most.  MLBTR's Steve Adams has more from Feldman's conference call.
  • The Orioles have considered making Bud Norris their closer to replace Johnson, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports.  This move would only be a "fallback option," Encina notes.  While the O's may yet add a starter and need to make room in their rotation, shifting an innings-eater like Norris to the bullpen would be a curious move, in my opinion.  Also from Encina's piece, Brian Matusz will be stretched out and given an opportunity to win a rotation job during Spring Training.
  • Adam Jones' six-year, $85.5MM extension signed in May 2012 looks like a better bargain in the wake of Jacoby Ellsbury's deal with the Yankees, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com opines.
  • In Baltimore news from earlier today, the Orioles signed outfielder Francisco Peguero and right-hander Ryan Webb.

Athletics Acquire Jim Johnson For Jemile Weeks

The Athletics have officially acquired closer Jim Johnson from the Orioles in exchange for second baseman Jemile Weeks. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter) was the first to report the deal. The Orioles also pick up a player to be named later or future considerations in the deal, tweets Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. 

Johnson

The Baltimore closer had been projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn a $10MM+ payday through arbitration for the Orioles, but will now have the opportunity to try and break eight figures in Oakland. Rosenthal reported earlier this evening that talks were heating up between the A's and O's on Johnson.

The big right-hander has led the bigs in saves over 2012-13, with 101 total to his credit. Last year, he pitched to a 2.94 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 as well as a 58% ground-ball rate. Though he struggled for a stretch in May, Johnson rebounded with a strong run over the last four months of the season.

Weeks, meanwhile, has failed to reproduce his outstanding 2011 campaign, when he posted a .303/.340/.421 triple-slash in 437 plate appearances at age 24. Though he has struggled in the bigs since that campaign, Weeks did muster a .271/.376/.369 in Triple-A last year and still has the capacity to steal 15 to 20 bags a year. And with just 1.142 years of service under his belt, he will bring plenty of cheap years of control to Baltimore. 

It appears that this deal fills holes for both clubs. The Athletics were in need of a back-end option with closer Grant Balfour hitting free agency, and the Orioles have long been searching for a reliable keystone option. The major questions, of course, will be whether Johnson can live up to his pay grade and whether Weeks will ever regain enough of his stroke to become a big league regular.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Orioles Working To Trade Jim Johnson

The Orioles are working on trading closer Jim Johnson, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). The Athletics are "most involved" in those discussions, says Rosenthal, while the Dodgers are also talking but do not expect to land the big righty. 

With Johnson projected to earn $10.8MM in his final season of arbitration by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, he has increasingly been the subject of trade speculation. For an Orioles club that seems constrained in its efforts to fill other needs because of salary concerns, shedding Johnson certainly has some appeal. After all, as MLBTR's Tim Dierkes explained in the above-linke post, the save numbers that have driven up his salary arguably overstate his true value. Last year, Johnson registered a 2.94 ERA in 70 1/3 innings, and his 2013 FIP (3.45) and xFIP (3.38) do not frame him as a dominant reliever.

In that respect, the interest of the Athletics is somewhat surprising. Though the club does need to replace closer Grant Balfour in some manner, it would cut against GM Billy Beane's track record to dedicate that much cash to a single reliever. And while the Dodgers have not hesitated to throw dollars at the bullpen, the club is set with Kenley Jansen at closer and is already carrying the sizeable contract of Brandon League


Orioles Trying To Trade Johnson; Dodgers In The Mix

The Orioles are trying hard to trade closer Jim Johnson, and the Dodgers are in the mix, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Johnson is projected to earn $10.8MM in arbitration this offseason by our own Matt Swartz.

Johnson, 30, posted a 2.94 ERA this season with 7.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 58 percent ground-ball rate. His 50 saves led the American League and tied Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel for the Major League lead. Over the past two seasons, no pitcher has amassed more saves than Johnson's total of 101.

The Orioles have been linked to some big-name free agents like Carlos Beltran and Jhonny Peralta (prior to his agreement with St. Louis), but their budget constraints make it difficult for them to pursue such marquee names. Shedding Johnson's salary (or at least the bulk of it) could allow Baltimore to be more aggressive on the free agent market.

The Dodgers, of course, have the game's deepest pockets, which should mean they're more than capable of absorbing Johnson's big salary. GM Ned Colletti showed he's not afraid to spend big on relievers last offseason by signing Brandon League to a three-year, $22.5MM contract, though it's fair to wonder if that contract will serve as a cautionary tale and dampen the team's interest in Johnson. The Dodger bullpen figures to be anchored by strikeout wizard Kenley Jansen, so a Johnson acquisition would likely push one solid closer into a setup role.


AL East Notes: Blue Jays, Feldman, Johnson, Red Sox

Middle relievers like Javier Lopez and Joe Smith have commanded eight-figure multiyear contracts in free agency, so teams looking for less-expensive relief help could turn to the Blue Jays as trade partners later this offseason, Sportsnet.ca's Shi Davidi writes.  "My early sense of the relief market is that it could be a very lucrative one for the players, and I think the value of our players and our relievers is actually going to climb," Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos recently said.  Toronto has a surplus of bullpen arms ranging from closer candidates like Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos or Brett Cecil to out-of-options swingmen like Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond.

Here's the latest from around the AL East…

  • The Blue Jays' payroll won't be affected by Rogers' recent $5.2 billion purchase of NHL television rights for its cable networks, Rogers Media president Keith Pelley told Jeff Blair on The Fan 590 Radio (partial transcript from Sportsnet.ca's Jeff Simmons).
  • Scott Feldman could accept a two-year contract with an option on a third year, sources tell MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko.  There is mutual interest between Feldman and the Orioles, and since the team isn't willing to give him more than two years, the option year could be a nice compromise.  Feldman recently said that his market was slow in developing, though around half the teams in baseball had checked in with his agent.  Besides the Orioles, the Twins and Yankees have also been linked to Feldman in rumors.
  • Also from Kubatko, "not everyone in the [Orioles] organization is convinced that [Jim] Johnson will be on the Opening Day roster next year."  The O's are known to be listening to offers for their closer, though as Kubatko notes, listening on Johnson is different from openly shopping him.
  • WEEI.com's Alex Speier does a position-by-position breakdown of the Red Sox depth, noting that the club's strong bench and minor league reinforcements were a big reason for Boston's success in 2013.
  • In other AL East news from earlier today, we collected some Yankees items as part of a New York Links post.