Jim Johnson Rumors

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.

Orioles Willing To Listen To Offers For Jim Johnson

The Orioles are willing to listen to trade offers for closer Jim Johnson, according to ESPN's Buster Olney (on Twitter). Baltimore is facing a massive payroll crunch this offseason, and Johnson's $10.8MM projected salary (per MLBTR's Matt Swartz) would seem to be a definite roadblock in their pursuit of top free agents to whom they've been linked, such as Carlos Beltran.

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. That bloated saves total, however, is actually problematic for Baltimore, as it's the chief reason for his projected payday (as Swartz explained in Johnson's arbitration breakdown).

Olney recently profiled the Orioles' budget situation and spoke with other executives who felt that Johnson would be "the most painless cut" the team could make. The Orioles opened 2013 with a $92MM payroll and figure to be around that mark again in 2014. Spending nearly $11MM on their closer would seem to be a questionable allocation of their funds.

While an additional $11MM in 2014 may not cover the salary of a top free agent like Beltran, it would present the opportunity for a slightly backloaded contract, as Nick Markakis and his $15MM annual commitment will be off the books following the 2014 campaign.


AL East Rumors: Blue Jays, McCann, Kuroda, Orioles

Teams have asked the Blue Jays about Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos told Jim Bowden of SiriusXM (via Twitter) that he hasn't "entertained the idea" of trading either player.  Bautista hit .259/.358/.498 with 28 homers in 2013 and saw his season end early after being shut down due to a hip issue.  Encarnacion had a solid campaign, posting a slash line of .272/.370/.534 with 36 home runs.  Bautista is owed $14MM annually through 2015 with a club option for the same amount in 2016 while Encarnacion will make $19MM through '15 with a $10MM club option for '16.  Here's more out of the AL East…

  • The Yankees are refusing to punt and are living for today with their Brian McCann signing, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  McCann's lefty pull power should provide a huge boost in 2014 (and probably '15 and '16), but beyond that is a mystery.
  • Within the same article, Sherman writes that the Yankees are now more upbeat about the chances of Hiroki Kuroda returning.  There remains a chance that the veteran pitcher decides to play in Japan next season. 
  • The McCann agreement allows the Yankees to take their time developing Gary Sanchez, their top prospect per MLB.com, knowing McCann will eventually move to first base or they can use him as a trade chip, tweets the New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand
  • Feinsand, in a second tweet, sees the backup job coming down to Austin Romine and Francisco Cervelli with Chris Stewart being non-tendered. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz estimates the arbitration eligible Cervelli and Stewart will each earn $1MM.
  • Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com wonders how McCann's new $85MM deal with the Yankees affects the Orioles' Matt Wieters.  Wieters’ offensive numbers aren’t as good, but he is is two years younger than McCann and Scott Boras will certainly dig up data to show that Wieters is deserving of more money.
  • Meanwhile, Alex Speier of WEEI.com looks at what McCann's deal might mean for Red Sox free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Salty is now the best avaialble free agent catcher and his market should now start to take shape. 
  • A combination of familiarity and affordability led to Jose Molina returning to the Rays, writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.  Financial terms of the yet-to-be-completed deal are not yet known, but Topkin writes that it's unlikely that he received more than the $3.3MM total he made the last two seasons.
  • The Orioles won't re-sign Tsuyoshi Wada, according to MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko. The O's declined their club option on Wada earlier this month; but, at the time, the door was said to be open for a minor league deal in Baltimore.
  • The Orioles need to be creative in wringing the most value out of Jim Johnson, writes the Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina. Encina dangles the idea of moving Johnson, who MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects to receive $10.8MM in arbitration, into the rotation, but that begs the questions of whether starting is a good fit for the 30-year-old right-hander and who will step in as closer. 

Edward Creech contributed to this post.


Arbitration Breakdown: Jim Johnson

Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.

Despite a slow start due to an awful May, Jim Johnson put together another big year as the Orioles' closer. He led the league in saves for the second consecutive season, again hitting the 50-save mark. Entering his fourth year of arbitration, Johnson looks poised to get a big raise on his $6.5MM salary, and my arbitration salary model projects him at $10.8MM for a solid $4.3MM raise. Johnson-JimLast year, Johnson set the record for a closer with his service time during his third year through the arbitration process, earning a $3.875MM raise on top of his $2.625MM salary.

It is difficult to find comparable pitchers for Johnson, because It is very rare for closers to go year-to-year for as long as he has. In fact, in the last seven years (for which I have collected arbitration data), there have only been 20 relievers to reach arbitration eligibility with at least 5 years and 120 days of service time. Johnson has 5 years and 165 days of service time entering this offseason.

The largest raise that any reliever has gotten in this service class for the last seven years was in 2012 when Brandon League got a $2.75MM raise. He only had 37 platform-year saves, far fewer than Johnson’s 50. League also had a 2.79 ERA, which is roughly in line with Johnson’s 2.94 this past season. Since their other numbers are similar, it would seem that League is the absolute floor for what Johnson’s raise could be.

In general, raises through arbitration do not seem to vary much with performance before the platform year for players who are re-entering arbitration. First-time eligibles do get paid for career performances too, but second-time, third-time, and fourth-time eligibles generally get paid based on platform seasons. However, this is not entirely the rule for closers. Pre-platform saves seems to be correlated with arbitration outcomes even after accounting for other factors. I suspect that this may have more to do with reputational effects rather than directly considering the save numbers of past seasons, but either way, this gives Johnson a substantial advantage over League, who only had eight pre-platform saves going into his 2012 arbitration discussion. Johnson had 72 already, thanks to his 51-save 2012. This suggests that Johnson is likely to crush the previous record.

Few other pitchers in Johnson’s service class are even all that close. The next biggest raise went to Santiago Casilla in 2013, who only had 25 saves in his platform season and 12 saves beforehand, and no one else even topped a $2MM raise or 20 saves. League would appear to be the only reliever in his fourth year of eligibility who could even be in the discussion.

Dipping into a slightly larger group and looking at anyone who was entering arbitration eligibility for their third or fourth time, there still aren’t many comparable pitchers. Ironically, the most similar player in the last service class was Johnson himself, who broke the third-time eligible reliever record with his $3.875MM raise last year. His 51 saves and 2.49 ERA in 2012 are actually pretty comparable to his 50 saves and 2.94 ERA in 2013. I doubt that Johnson in a previous service class would make logical sense as a comparable for Johnson this time around, but it does show that raises in the $4MM region are pretty reasonable to expect.

Heath Bell got a $3.5MM raise in his third year of arbitration eligibility (with 5 years and 99 days of service time) back in 2011, when he was coming off 47 saves and a 1.93 ERA. Johnson could argue that is comparable but inferior, and with three years of inflation, something north of $4MM is reasonable.

Jose Valverde could come up as well—with 5 years of service time and 44 platform-year saves, he got a $3.3MM raise back in 2009. Francisco Rodriguez had 40 saves when he entered arbitration with 5 years of 15 days of service time the year before that, and he got a $2.95MM raise.

Johnson’s case is unique because of the lack of comparables, but it seems like a very reasonable argument for “significantly north of $3MM” could be made. While I am not sure he will necessarily hit the $4.3MM mark, I suspect he will get close and the Orioles should definitely budget for somewhere around $10-11MM of salary for their closer in 2014.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


AL East Notes: Wieters, Johnson, Drew, Cano, Nava

In yesterday's Insider-only column, ESPN's Buster Olney broke down the budget problems facing the Orioles this offseason. The team has interest in signing Chris Davis and Matt Wieters to long-term deals, but both are Scott Boras clients and each is just two years removed from free agency. According to Olney, the O's tried to strike up extension talks for Wieters in Spring Training 2013 and were met with a counter-offer in the range of Joe Mauer's eight-year, $184MM deal with the Twins. Coming off the worst offensive season of his career, the price for a Wieters extension is likely down, but that contractual demand shows that the two sides "are speaking a different languague in negotiations," as Olney puts it. More from Olney and the rest of the AL East below…

  • Rival executives feel that Jim Johnson represents "the most painless cut" the Orioles could make in order to ease their payroll constrictions, Olney wrote. I agree that for a team with a tight payroll, Johnson's $10.8MM projected salary is too steep a price to pay despite his strong ground-ball and ERA numbers.
  • MASNsports.com's Steve Melewski weighs in on Johnson in response to Olney's piece, writing that the decision to non-tender Johnson "would be a bombshell" that he simply cannot picture. Melewski points out that in addition to being one of the team's best arms, Johnson is a leader in the clubhouse and has the complete trust of manager Buck Showalter.
  • Even after reaching an agreement to bring Brendan Ryan back into the fold in 2014, the Yankees are still pursuing free agent shortstop Stephen Drew, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports noted within his report on the Ryan signing. The fit seems a curious one at this point, as the Yankees seem to have bigger needs in the rotation and have already committed $12MM to Derek Jeter.
  • Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger writes that the Yankees are expected to meet with Robinson Cano's camp this week. McCullough's piece also includes the highlights from a recent Brodie Van Wagenen appearance on MLB Network Radio. Van Wagenen, the CAA agent who is partnering with Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports, said that Jay-Z will be "intimately involved in all areas" of Cano's contract negotiations. 
  • The Red Sox are likely to dismiss any trade proposals offered to acquire Daniel Nava this offseason, writes WEEI.com's Rob Bradford.  As Bradford writes, Nava's ability to play either corner outfield position or even first base gives GM Ben Cherington and his staff the flexibility to cast a wide net of free agent targets. Shane Victorino could play center field with Nava taking one corner outfield spot and Carlos Beltran occupying the other, and he also keeps them from having to get into a bidding war to retain Mike Napoli, Bradford points out in a pair of hypothetical scenarios.

Orioles Notes: Wieters, McLouth, Beltran, Pitching

The Orioles have been one of the most mentioned teams on MLBTR with the club trying to decide whether to extend or trade Matt Wieters and approaching the Cardinals about a J.J. Hardy-Shelby Miller trade. Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com weighs in on those and other topics in a "Because You Asked" column:

  • The Hardy-Miller talks were just preliminary, but not unexpected because of the Orioles' quest for starting pitching and the Cardinals' need for a shortstop. Kubatko sees the O's acquiring a starter and keeping Hardy.
  • Wieters is not untouchable and the Orioles are willing to trade him, but are not feverishly shopping the catcher. Financial constraints are compounding the Wieters situation, as the front office is trying to figure out how to accomodate within their budget the pursuit of free agents like Carlos Beltran and arbitration raises for Wieters and others (MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects $41.2MM for eight arbitration eligible players).
  • There is no progress in negotiations with outfielder Nate McLouth. The Orioles are concerned with other clubs offering him a two-year deal. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes predicted two years and $10MM for McLouth to which a person in the Orioles organization, when asked by Kubatko late in the season, responded: "Well, he won't be getting that from us."
  • Kubatko suggests the Orioles swallow hard and give McLouth a two-year contract since they did so for Wilson Betemit. If re-signed, Kubatko doesn't necessarily see McLouth as the full-time starter in left, but a valuable fourth outfielder, occasional DH, pinch-runner, and defensive replacement.
  • The Orioles like Carlos Beltran and see him as a great fit; but, will have to outbid some big spending teams, which they haven't done historically.
  • One option worth debating to free up payroll space for Beltran, according to Kubatko, is trading Jim Johnson and his expected $10.8MM arbitration salary. The Orioles have said they intend to keep their closer.
  • Kubatko spoke with someone in the organization recently who steered him away from Scott Kazmir, as if the Orioles have no interest. The O's, however, do have interest in Tim Hudson.
  • There is a definite possibility Brian Roberts will return to Baltimore. If not, Mark Ellis is on the club's radar as an alternative because he won't command a three-year deal like Omar Infante

AL East Notes: Johnson, Orioles, Blue Jays, Cano

 As the Rays fight to join the Red Sox in the postseason, let's take a look at the rest of the AL East:

  • The Orioles will tender a contract to closer Jim Johnson, reports MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko. Though Johnson has accumulated more saves than anyone in baseball over the last two seasons, the 30-year-old righty went through a rough stretch that made him look like a possible non-tender, especially given the high price he'll command in his final year of arbitration eligibility.
  • Baltimore GM Dan Duquette recently had what he termed an "informal meeting" with agent Scott Boras, the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly reports. Among other O's, Boras represents two key younger Birds in catcher Matt Wieters and first baseman Chris Davis, each of whom is set to hit the open market after 2015. Though Duquette indicated that nothing significant has happened on the negotiation front, he said that working to lock up the team's "core group" was a priority that the team would work on over the winter.
  • There are a lot of roster decisions facing Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, writes Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star. Particularly difficult, says Kennedy, are the questions whether or not to pick up first baseman/DH Adam Lind's option and what to do with catcher J.P. Arencibia in 2014.
  • The Jays' rotation, of course, was one of the team's most glaring disappointments this season. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca takes a closer look at the club's options heading into the offseason.
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post provides the latest on soon-to-be free agent Robinson Cano, who Sherman says seems likely — but not certain — to stay in the Bronx.  “There is a lot that money can’t buy,” Cano said. “When Mo [Mariano Rivera] was a free agent, if he went somewhere else, then what happened [Thursday] could not have happened for him. But you have to understand that this is a business. The Yankees are going to do what is best for them, and I am going to do what is best for me and my family.”