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Josh Johnson Rumors
Padres pitcher Josh Johnson had Tommy John surgery Thursday, MLB.com’s Corey Brock notes. The surgery marks the end of another lost year for Johnson, who the Padres signed to an $8MM deal over the offseason. Because Johnson will start fewer than seven games this year, the Padres will have a $4MM option on him for 2015. It’s not yet clear whether they’ll exercise it, however. “We still have a lot of hurdles to clear before we make a decision on that,” says assistant GM A.J. Hinch. Here are more notes from the National League.
- After being designated for assignment by the Pirates, Travis Ishikawa became a free agent and signed with the Giants, who sent him to Triple-A Fresno. That’s an assignment with which Ishikawa is familiar, Bryant-Jon Anteola of the Fresno Bee reports. Ishikawa also played for Fresno in the 2008 and 2011 seasons. Ishikawa is, of course, aiming higher than Triple-A, however. “When I was looking around, the Giants made contact, and I noticed there wasn’t a lot of left-handed hitting on the bench up there,” he says. “Figured this was a good chance to get back up there and try to repeat what I was able to do before with the Giants.”
- Matt Garza, now with the Brewers, “[ran] out of hope” when he was with the Cubs, writes Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. “You go through three years of constantly hoping (with the Cubs), you kind of run out of hope,” he says. “You come to a team like this [the Brewers] where every day we’re going to win. We’re not going out to hope to win. We’re going out with the attitude we’re going to win.” Garza, who signed a $50MM contract with Milwaukee in the offseason, defeated his former team on Friday.
It’s a blow to a Padres pitching staff that was hoping for big things in a rebound campaign for Johnson, though the injury does trigger a $4MM club option that the Padres will now be able to exercise. Due to his extensive injury history, Johnson’s contract — a one-year, $8MM pact — contained language that gave the Padres a $4MM club option were he to make fewer than seven starts in 2014.
Johnson didn’t take the mound for the Padres after signing the deal, as he opened the year on the disabled list with a strained flexor muscle in his right arm, which, upon further examination by Dr. James Andrews, led to the recommendation to undergo the Tommy John operation. Johnson becomes the latest in a long line of injured hurlers to undergo the procedure this year, as he is now incredibly the 16th Major League starter to need the operation in 2014 alone.
Despite the loss of Johnson (and fellow Tommy John victim Cory Luebke), San Diego’s rotation has been excellent this season. The quintet of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, Eric Stults and Robbie Erlin have combined for a 3.12 ERA (ninth in the Majors) and a 3.26 FIP (fifth in the Majors).
ESPN.com's Jim Bowden took a look back (Insider link) at his free agent predictions to see where he hit and missed. Most of his accurate guesses came on players who signed early, while the opposite holds true of those that he was off on. By far the biggest difference among actual and estimated deals came with Ervin Santana, who Bowden had tabbed for a five-year, $75MM deal but ultimately signed for a lower AAV and just one season.
As we join the rest of the game in celebrating the legacy of Dodgers great Jackie Robinson, here's more from the National League:
- Padres starter Josh Johnson, who is struggling to overcome a right forearm strain, will visit Dr. James Andrews for an assessment, reports MLB.com's Corey Brock. According to a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the team is increasingly concerned that Johnson may require his second Tommy John surgery. GM Josh Byrnes said that, at this point, he is "not sure" if Johnson will be able to throw for the club this year, but that the team hopes to "know more next week." Johnson's one-year, $8MM deal with San Diego includes a conditional $4MM club option for next year that is triggered if the righty makes less than seven starts.
- With a farm system full of top-end talent in the field, the Cubs are focused on adding to a group of arms that may be too lightly regarded, writes Gordon Wittenmyer for Baseball America. "Our arms are probably a little bit underrated," said president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. "That said, we need at least twice as many of them as we have now. But I think we’ve done a nice job through the last couple drafts and, especially, through some trades adding to that reserve." But that does not mean that Epstein is content with the talent he has brought together. "We need to keep pounding it," he said. "Every trade we make, we try to get an arm. Every time we have a draft pick, we look closely at the best available arm who we can add to the organization."
- Meanwhile, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said today that the team is focused on upgrading Wrigley Field rather than taking a shot at a suburban ballpark, even if that might be more financially advantageous, the Associated Press reports (via ESPN.com). He also said that the club was focusing on the overall development of its international prospects, not just teaching basic English but working to address broader educational needs.
- Addressing the recent comments by the agent of top pitching prospect Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers made clear that he had no intentions of being influenced, as MLB.com's Steve Gilbert reports (Twitter links). "We're going to run our business and not let anybody else dictate how we do our business," said Towers. "I'm a straight shooter, too," he added. "If we felt at the start of the season that this guy was ready he would have been here."
The Padres will shut starting pitcher Josh Johnson down for 10 days to two weeks with a strained flexor, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune tweets. Johnson will be out for at least four weeks. It must be a frustrating injury for Johnson, who only started 16 games last season. While the injury doesn't appear to threaten a huge portion of the season, the Padres can feel grateful for an option they built into Johnson's contract — if Johnson starts fewer than seven games this season, the Padres get a $4MM option on his services for 2015. Here are more notes on pitchers.
- Another Padres pitcher, Joe Wieland, will have minor surgery to address irritation in his elbow, tweets MLB.com's Corey Brock. He is expected to be back by the All-Star Break. Wieland spent last season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
- The Rangers are facing a decision on Tommy Hanson, MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan writes. Hanson has a split contract that calls for him to receive $2MM guaranteed in the Majors and less than that in the minors. If the Rangers don't option him by Wednesday, they'll be on the hook for the entire $2MM, but if they do option him, he can opt out and become a free agent. The Rangers are trying to figure out what to do in their rotation after Yu Darvish, Martin Perez and Tanner Scheppers.
A year ago, Jon Lester was coming off a poor season and his long-term future in Boston looked in doubt. Now, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald writes, Lester has rebuilt his career following a rebound season and another World Series ring, and it seems he's in position for a nine-figure contract from either the Red Sox or another club as a free agent next winter. Lester and the Sox have discussed an extension, and Lauber notes that the Sox (for all their promising young arms on the farm) have nobody who can replace Lester's 200 innings in 2015, so the club needs their star southpaw back.
Here's the latest from around the AL East…
- Yankees officials tell Joel Sherman of the New York Post that the Tigers haven't asked about Ichiro Suzuki in the wake of Andy Dirks' injury. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski tells Sherman that his team is "not actively seeking a big move," though they haven't decided if they'll use an internal or external player to platoon with Rajai Davis in left.
- Ichiro, for his part, had "nothing to say about" the subject of whether or not he would want to play for another team that could offer him more regular playing time. “But as far as being part of [trade rumors], when I first came to New York, I knew it was something that happens here," Suzuki said. "You have to be emotionally ready and prepare yourself for it."
- Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli seems somewhat torn between his desire for more playing time and his desire to remain with the Yankees. "I’ve been here forever. I don’t have that answer right now because this is, I feel like, my house," Cervelli told reporters, including Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. "But if somebody wants me to go over there, I’ve got to make the adjustment. I told you guys many times that my dream is to be a starting catcher. Right now, my role is a backup. That’s what I’m playing for. But I’m never going to stop because an opportunity is going to come again." Cervelli has drawn interest from several teams (including the White Sox and Diamondbacks) as one of Yankees' backup catchers could be traded to bring infield help to the Bronx.
- The Blue Jays' lack of success in obtaining starting pitching this offseason leads Sportsnet.ca's Shi Davidi to re-evaluate the team's decisions to not tender a qualifying offer to Josh Johnson and to pass on a potential trade for Brett Anderson due to medical concerns.
- According to some Red Sox players, Stephen Drew regrets not accepting Boston's $14.1MM qualifying offer, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports. Drew has lingered on the free agent market in his search for a multiyear deal, and while the possibility of returning to the Sox as a veteran alternative for Xander Bogaerts or Will Middlebrooks seemed to have potential earlier this winter, the club seems to have moved on. Red Sox veterans, Abraham writes, no longer feel the team needs to re-sign Drew after seeing how Middlebrooks has conducted himself during Spring Training.
- No matter how well the Rays perform on the field or how much they spend on payroll, Cork Gaines of Rays Index notes that the team can't seem to top an average of 23,000 fans per game at Tropicana Field. Gaines speculates that even a World Series title could only bump the Rays over that 23K attendance threshold for a season or two, at most.
After the signing of reliever Joe Smith and their recent trade for David Freese and Fernando Salas, the Angels will only have about $8MM more they can spend before hitting the luxury tax threshold, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez reports. The Angels will likely continue to look for starting pitching, and they could trade Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar or Mark Trumbo in order to acquire pitching and clear salary. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- The Angels are interested in signing Bronson Arroyo and/or Bartolo Colon, but a deal is not close with either player, ESPN's Jim Bowden tweets.
- With Brian McCann (Yankees) and Carlos Ruiz (Phillies) now off the market, the Rockies are likely through looking for a catcher, Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post guesses (via Twitter). Those two, along with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, were the big names on the free agent market, and with McCann and Ruiz gone, Renck suggests that the Rockies will try to upgrade at other positions instead.
- With Josh Johnson in the fold, the Padres have the makings of a good rotation in place, and Matt Calkins of the San Diego Union-Tribune argues that should empower them to be bold for the rest of the offseason. With Johnson, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross at the big-league level, and Max Fried, Matt Wisler and Burch Smith behind them, the Padres can use their pitching depth to acquire a power hitter, Calkins argues. Of course, Padres starters had the worst WAR of any team last season, and Johnson is coming off an injury-plagued year, so it's questionable how much depth they really have.
- Padres GM Josh Byrnes tells MLB Network Radio, in fact, that Johnson hasn't even thrown since having surgery on his elbow in October. Byrnes also suggests that "if this year doesn't go well, we'd like to get a discounted look at next year" (Twitter links). Johnson is signed to a one-year deal, but the Padres will receive a $4MM option for 2015 if Johnson doesn't start at least seven games in 2014.
The Padres finished the season with a six-man rotation and have talented arms on the mend from Tommy John surgery in the form of Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland, but that didn't stop GM Josh Byrnes from landing one of the highest-upside arms on the free agent market. The Padres announced on Wednesday that they have signed right-hander Josh Johnson to a one-year contract.
Johnson's deal is reportedly worth $8MM, and he can earn another $1.25MM if he makes 26 starts. The contract also contains a conditional option that offers the Padres some protection against his lengthy injury history; if Johnson fails to make seven starts next season, San Diego will gain a $4MM club option for the 2015 season.
The Pirates appear to have been the runners-up in the Johnson sweepstakes, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes tweets, and ESPN's Jerry Crasnick cites the Astros, Royals, and White Sox (Twitter link) among the other clubs that expressed interest in Johnson. Johnson had the Padres and Giants as his top two choices and turned down bigger one-year offers to sign with San Diego, a source told Crasnick.
Johnson had a rough 2013, making just 16 starts thanks to injury troubles. The soon-to-be 30-year-old pitched through tendonitis in his knee all season and spent time on the disabled list due to a forearm strain and triceps inflamation before undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow in early October. Johnson has only topped 200 innings in a season once and has only thrown more than 100 innings four times in a Major League season.
In his shortened 2013 campaign, Johnson posted a 6.20 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 81 1/3 innings. However, advanced stats such as xFIP (3.58) and SIERA (3.73) would indicate that bad luck played a role in Johnson's troubles. For his career, Johnson owns a 3.40 ERA with 8.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9.
Johnson figures to join Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, Eric Stults, and Tyson Ross in San Diego's projected 2014 rotation, giving the Padres a very solid starting five in the increasingly competitive NL West. Joe Wieland, Cory Luebke, and Robbie Erlin also figure to be in the mix.
While Johnson and his health might not be a sure thing, the deal appears to be fairly low-risk at just one year and the $8MM price tag doesn't break the bank for San Diego. Tim predicted back in October that Johnson would net a one-year, $8MM deal in free agency.
Earlier today, Travis Sawchick of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Johnson narrowed down his choices to three or four teams, with the Pirates being among the clubs in the mix. Shortly thereafter, Tim learned that all of the interested teams were out of the National League with some likely on the West Coast.
Johnson is in San Diego for a physical today and the deal is expected to be announced Wednesday. The right-hander ranked 30th on Tim's Top 50 Free Agents list for 2014.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com first reported the one-year, $8MM agreement. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes was the first to learn about the incentives (Twitter link), and Yahoo's Jeff Passan broke the news about the conditional $4MM option for 2015 (on Twitter).
Steve Adams contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Padres have long held a competitive advantage in that San Diego is a desirable place to play baseball, specifically with a large, pitcher-friendly ballpark. They can often sign free agent starting pitchers without making the highest bid, as was the case with their one-year, $8MM deal for righty Josh Johnson.
Johnson was limited to 16 starts for the Blue Jays in 2013 due to triceps tightness and a forearm injury, which resulted in arthroscopic elbow surgery in early October. As explained in our free agent profile, Johnson has had only three healthy seasons in the last five, and the gold standard contract for a pitcher coming off an injury is Ben Sheets' $10MM deal with the Athletics nearly four years ago. It seems possible Johnson and agent Matt Sosnick could have gotten close to that $10MM mark had they focused on the highest bidder, but the pitcher preferred San Diego for personal reasons. The Padres got a discount approaching 20%, just for being the Padres.
Johnson was already a low-risk proposition, since he targeted a one-year deal from the outset as a means of rebuilding value and re-entering free agency after 2014. The Padres further lowered their risk a bit by acquiring a $4MM club option for 2015 in the event Johnson makes fewer than seven starts in 2014, according to Yahoo's Jeff Passan. We saw a more drastic version of this clause play out with the Red Sox and John Lackey, as Lackey's league minimum option went into effect when he missed significant time with surgery for a pre-existing elbow injury. Most likely, Johnson will make at least seven starts in 2014, as he has each season since 2007, when he had Tommy John surgery. If he doesn't, something serious will have gone wrong, and the Padres may not want to guarantee Johnson even $4MM for 2015. It would be nice to have the option, though.
Johnson hasn't had an ace-caliber, healthy season since 2010, which is why I think his upside is something closer to 2012's 3.81 ERA rather than the type of season that gets Cy Young votes. There's still considerable upside for the Padres in this deal, though, as Johnson's earnings top out at $9.25MM for 2014. The going rate for a #3-4 type starter is around $14MM, and Johnson certainly has that capability for the Padres.
The best part about signing Johnson for the Padres is that they are not relying on him. As Passan explains, they've got a surplus of starters with Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, Eric Stults, Tyson Ross, and others, so if Johnson goes bust it won't ruin their chances of having a good rotation.
After looking at the Red Sox earlier this evening, let's check out the rest of the American League East..
- General Manager Alex Anthopoulos says the Blue Jays haven’t had recent talks with Josh Johnson and gets the impression that he has better options elsewhere, writes Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. Earlier today it was reported that Johnson is down to three or four teams with the Pirates among the finalists and Tim Dierkes learned that all of those clubs are in the National League.
- Nick Markakis is among the Orioles in need of a better 2014 campaign, writes Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com. Markakis was plagued with injuries in 2012 and struggled in 2013, even though he played a full season. If he's going to turn things around, 2014 – his walk year – might be the time to do it.
- Anthopoulos acknowledged that he had dialogue with Carlos Ruiz's agent and "liked the player" in an interview on Sportsnet 590, BN-S tweets. The Phillies re-signed Ruiz to a three-year, $26MM deal earlier this week.
- Yankees president Randy Levine denied conspiring with MLB to run Alex Rodriguez out of the game or to personally benefit financially if his 211-game suspension is upheld, a source familiar with his testimony told Wallace Matthews and Matt Ehalt of ESPNNewYork.com.
- Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (video link) looks at Matt Wieters' future with the Orioles.
2:31pm: MLBTR's Tim Dierkes (via Twitter) hears that Johnson's finalists are all NL teams, some likely on the west coast.
1:45pm: Josh Johnson has narrowed his decision down to three or four teams, agent Matt Sosnick tells Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the Pirates are among the finalists. A deal could be done "in the short-term," Sawchik adds, reminding that Johnson is seeking to rebuild his value on a one-year deal (Twitter links). Last night, Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Johnson reached out to the Padres and Giants early in the offseason to inform the teams that they were his first choice.
Johnson, 30 in January, posted a bloated 6.20 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 81 1/3 innings. Sabermetric stats such as xFIP (3.58) and SIERA (3.73) feel that Johnson was victim to some bad luck, and his .356 BABIP and 18.5 percent homer-to-flyball ratio would back that line of thinking up.
Of course, the bigger issue with Johnson is his health. Johnson pitched through tendonitis in his knee all season and also hit the disabled list due to a forearm strain and triceps inflamation this season before undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow in early October. Johnson is one of the game's most talented arms but has only topped 200 innings in a season once, and in fact has only thrown more than 100 innings four times in a Major League season.
The Pirates are a logical suitor for his services as they've recently enjoyed success in buying low on talented pitchers coming off down seasons. Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Mark Melancon have all enjoyed tremendous success in a black and gold jersey. Johnson didn't receive a qualifying offer and therefore won't require his new team to surrender a draft pick.