Josh Johnson Rumors

Josh Johnson Not Getting Qualifying Offer

The Blue Jays will not be making a qualifying offer to righty Josh Johnson, MLBTR has learned.  Even after a lost season wrecked by injuries, there was a small chance that the Jays would overpay to get the 29-year-old under contract for 2014.  Had the Blue Jays made the $14.1MM qualifying offer, it's likely Johnson would have accepted, as he's not expected to reach that salary on the open market.

Johnson, profiled by MLBTR here, ranked 30th on our Top 50 Free Agents list.  He's expected to be ready for Spring Training after elbow surgery this month, and will be seeking a one-year deal to rebuild value.  A few days ago, agent Matt Sosnick told Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, "If Toronto doesn't make a qualifying offer, we'll probably be looking for a good pitching atmosphere, a good defense behind him and a team with a good chance to win."


Starter Notes: Johnson, Nolasco, Jimenez, Dodgers

Let's take a look around the developing starting pitching market …

  • The Blue Jays are still deciding whether or not to make Josh Johnson a qualifying offer, reports Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. Davidi says that the hurler's health is the primary consideration, and adds that he would be "a near certainty to accept if he gets an offer." Johnson's agent, Matt Sosnick, told Davidi that he has not "talked about it much" with club GM Alex Anthopoulos, but said there were "good reasons to qualify [Johnson] or not qualify him."
  • Sosnick also spoke with Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, providing a host of good information on Johnson, who he says may still receive (and could accept) a qualifying offer from Toronto. If Johnson hits the open market, his agent says he will certainly seek a one-year deal "to rebuild his value." With no interest in a multi-year deal, contract negotiations figure to be simplified somewhat, and could open the door to more teams with interest. Sosnick says Johnson is "looking for a good pitching atmosphere, a good defense behind him and a team with a good chance to win." He predicts that the big righty is "probably going to be the most approached free-agent pitcher out there" and will ultimately land a deal "somewhere around what the qualifying offer is."
  • Twins VP of player personnel Mike Radcliff threw some cold water on the possibility of a move on Johnson, Berardino further reports. Radcliff said that Johnson is coming off of a "horrible" year and "if he wants $10 million, we're not going to be involved with that."
  • Sosnick reps not only Johnson, but fellow free agents Ricky Nolasco and Randy Messenger. He says that the Twins seem to have interest in every member of that trio, but his "sense is they're most interested in Nolasco." 
  • One other possible target for Minnesota is Ubaldo Jimenez, reports Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com (via Twitter). Of course, Jimenez is widely expected to come with draft compensation attached, though the Twins enjoy a protected top-ten pick (fifth overall). The team has apparently told at least one free agent's representatives that it will be aggressive on the market.
  • The Dodgers could conceivably hatch a strategy to trade for David Price and add Masahiro Tanaka via the posting process, a rival GM tells Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com. By doing that instead of signing a top free agent starter, the club could avoid the loss of its first-round draft choice and the bonus pool allocation that comes with it. Of course, the Dodgers would need to part with more advanced talent to snag Price.

Free Agent Profile: Josh Johnson

Before the season began, Blue Jays righty Josh Johnson ranked third on my Free Agent Power Rankings, which serves as an example of how tantalizing his abilities can be.  He lasted four starts before hitting the DL with triceps tightness.  He returned over a month later and made another dozen starts before a forearm injury ended his season.  On October 1st, Johnson had arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies and a bone spur in his elbow, and he's expected to be ready for Spring Training.  Let's take a look at his free agent prospects after the lost season.

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Pros/Strengths

Johnson is one of the hardest-throwing free agent starters, as his average fastball velocity of 92.8 miles per hour this year was bested only by Garza.  He finished fourth in strikeouts per nine innings at 9.18.  Even in a year in which almost nothing went right, Johnson still threw hard and whiffed more than a batter per inning.

Prior to 2013, Johnson had a reputation of a pitcher who would spend some time on the DL, but would be excellent when he was on the mound.  He posted a 3.14 ERA over 904 1/3 innings from 2006-12.  During that time period, his ERA ranked sixth in all of baseball among those with at least 800 innings.  Johnson pitched like an ace for the Marlins from 2009-10, with a 2.80 ERA over 392 2/3 innings.  Only four pitchers were better.  He made the All-Star team in both seasons, and finished fifth in the 2010 NL Cy Young voting after posting a 2.30 ERA.

Given his rough 2013 campaign, Johnson is highly unlikely to receive a qualifying offer, so he won't come with a draft pick cost attached.

Johnson's recent elbow surgery could be construed as a positive, as Dr. James Andrews told the pitcher he thought the bone spurs were the cause of his struggles this year, agent Matt Sosnick told MLBTR.

Weaknesses/Cons

Johnson is a starting pitcher who tossed fewer than 1,000 innings over an eight-year span, as he's been injured a ton.  In 2006, his first full season, he was done on September 12th due to a forearm strain.  He began the '07 season on the DL with ulnar nerve irritation in his right biceps.  After beginning his season in June of that year, he made four starts before going under the knife for Tommy John surgery in August.  His recovery was short, as he was back on a Major League mound in less than a year.

Johnson was injury-free in '09, and signed a four-year extension after that season.  Though he technically avoided the DL in his fantastic 2010 campaign, his last start came on September 4th due to shoulder inflammation and a back strain.  He hit the DL with shoulder inflammation in May 2011, and wasn't able to return from the injury that year, finishing with only nine starts.  The mostly-healthy 2009-10 seasons showed Johnson bounced back well from Tommy John surgery, but '11 reintroduced the idea that he was injury-prone.  He bounced back in 2012, avoiding the DL and making 31 starts.  Johnson didn't pitch at his previous ace level, but he re-established enough hope to be a major part of the November blockbuster with Toronto.

As mentioned in the introduction of this post, Johnson endured separate injuries in 2013 involving his triceps and elbow, culminating in surgery.  He made a lot of bad pitches, allowing 11.6 hits and 1.66 home runs per nine innings, leading to a career-worst 6.20 ERA in 81 1/3 innings.   Even if we give him a pass for Tommy John surgery early in his career, Johnson has had three healthy seasons in the last five.  He hasn't had an ace-caliber healthy season since 2010, calling into question whether he can return to that level for 180 innings.  After 2013, his ability and durability must be questioned.  With only one 200-inning season in his career, Johnson is the polar opposite of a dependable, low-upside arm like Bronson Arroyo.

Personal

Josh is married with two children, and they reside in Las Vegas during the offseason.  He's a big golfer who plays to a 1 handicap.

Market

Sosnick told MLBTR Johnson loved playing for Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, and bought into the vision of GM Alex Anthopoulos.  The pitcher has interest in returning to the Jays.  If a reunion doesn't happen, pretty much any team could explore a deal, since the risk will be limited to one year.  The Cubs, Rays, Mets, Rangers, Pirates, Nationals, Twins, Indians, and Athletics are some teams that have shown a willingness in recent years to sign free agent starting pitcher projects.

Expected Contract

A one-year deal free of options is in the cards for Johnson, as he aims to rebuild value with a healthy 2014.  The gold standard contract for a pitcher coming off an injury is the one-year, $10MM deal Ben Sheets signed with the Athletics after missing all of 2009.  Though that contract is almost four years old, I see it as the ceiling for Johnson.  Ultimately, I predict a one-year, $8MM deal, with significant incentives in the $4-6MM range.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Josh Johnson Has Elbow Surgery; Expected To Be Ready For Spring Training

Righty Josh Johnson underwent minor elbow surgery this morning to remove bone spurs, agent Matt Sosnick tells MLBTR.  Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure, telling Johnson he feels the discomfort caused by the spurs was the cause of his struggles with the Blue Jays this year.  No issues were found with Johnson's elbow ligament.  Johnson will be throwing in five weeks, and will be ready for spring training.

Johnson, 30 in January, is eligible for free agency for the first time this offseason.  His season in Toronto did not go as planned, ending in August with the elbow issue.  He made 16 starts, posting a 6.20 ERA despite a good strikeout to walk ratio.

Sosnick, who also represents free agent hurler Ricky Nolasco, tells MLBTR Johnson will absolutely consider signing with the Blue Jays if they do not make a qualifying offer.  Johnson loved playing for manager John Gibbons, and bought into the vision of GM Alex Anthopoulos.  A one-year deal with incentives seems likely for Johnson.


Free Agent Faceoff: Josh Johnson vs. Roy Halladay

Heading into the offseason, we can be sure of seeing the usual collection of low-risk deals for formerly marquee free-agent starting pitchers. Last winter, the Pirates struck gold with a one-year, incentive-laden deal for Francisco Liriano, as he's generated 3.0 fWAR this season while making just $1MM. Though they'll require larger commitments, two starters hitting the free agent market this offseason, Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay, offer similar ace potential and are also likely to be had relatively cheaply. They're up next in our Free Agent Faceoff series.

When I asked last week in a poll, just 29 percent of you said the Blue Jays should extend Johnson a qualifying offer this offseason after an injury-marred 2013. This season was certainly a disappointing one for the right-hander, as his 6.20 ERA was the worst of his career if you ignore 2007, when he threw just 15 2/3 innings. However, I made the case that Johnson was among the most unlucky starters in baseball this season, as 18.5 percent of his fly balls went for home runs. That's likely to fall, as it's double his career mark of 8.2 percent.  When Johnson's healthy, he can be as dominant as any starter in baseball, as his lifetime 3.40 ERA attests to. He's just rarely healthy for a full season. Any acquiring team will hope that the 29-year-old can recapture some of his 2010 magic, when he managed an acceptable 183 2/3 innings and led the NL in ERA.

Halladay's 2013 mark of 6.71 ERA in 61 2/3 innings was one of several troubling statistics for the right-hander in 2013, a year that also saw his average two-seam fastball velocity fall to just 88.7 mph. That's a concerning figure for a 36-year-old who missed significant time with a shoulder injury. Halladay's 5.0 BB/9 rate and 1.8 HR/9 rate were also his highest since 2000, when he was in his early 20s. At this point in Halladay's career, we may just be seeing the decline of a pitcher whose right arm logged more than 1,400 innings over a six-year period from 2006-2011. However, there's also no ignoring the fact that he has two Cy Young Awards to his name. If Halladay can prove that he's healthy, that sterling resume is sure to loom large in the evaluation process for many clubs.

In Johnson and Halladay, we have two starters who succumbed to injuries in 2013 but are likely to draw significant interest as former top-of-the-rotation starters. Johnson has dominated in the past when healthy, and though he hasn't had the career Halladay has, he has youth on his side at age 29. Halladay is a much older 36, but he was also among the best pitchers in baseball over that 2006-2011 span. Who would you rather have?



AL East Links: Anthopoulos, Betemit, Rays, Bard

It was on this day in 1914 that Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run.  Playing for the Providence Grays of the International League, Ruth went yard during a road game in Toronto, an occasion marked by a historical plaque at Hanlan's Point.  This was the only homer the Bambino would ever hit in the minors, as he spent the entire 1915 season with the Red Sox and never again visited the farm during his legendary career. 

Here are some notes from around the AL East…

  • Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos' job isn't in jeopardy, MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm writes as part of a reader mailbag.  Anthopoulos "appears to have the full backing" of upper management and should continue to do so for at least the next couple of seasons, though obviously the Jays will be expected to contend at some point.  Earlier today, Anthopoulos discussed a number of topics in an interview on Sportsnet 590 radio.
  • Also from Chisholm, he predicts that if the Blue Jays don't extend a qualifying offer to Josh Johnson and he hits the open market, Johnson will likely sign a one-year contract with an NL team to try and re-establish his value for the 2015 free agent market.
  • Wilson Betemit's time with the Orioles is probably coming to an end, as Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun writes that the O's "likely won't pick up" the $3.2MM option on his contract for 2014.  Betemit has missed almost all of the season recovering from March knee surgery and the team already seems to have moved on, as Betemit has only nine plate appearances over five games since returning from the DL.
  • St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster criticized MLB in a memo updating his city council about the Rays' stadium issue, Mark Puente of the Tampa Bay Times reports.  Also in the piece, Puente notes that the Rays' ongoing search for a new ballpark could be an issue for Foster in November's mayoral election.
  • Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's history with Daniel Bard made it no surprise that the Cubs would acquire the struggling right-hander on a waiver claim from the Red Sox, manager John Farrell said.  Farrell told reporters, including MLB.com's Jason Mastrodonato, that his team didn't have the time or roster space to nurture Bard back to form but he thinks Bard can do it.  "I guess the most important thing is that we wish him well. We hope he gets back on track. There's still a good pitcher in there once he gets back on track," Farrell said.
  • From earlier today around the AL East, the Astros claimed Eric Thames off waivers from the Orioles, the Nationals claimed Mauro Gomez off waivers from the Blue Jays and the Red Sox aren't sure if they'll be willing to re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury if it will cost much beyond $100MM.

Anthopoulos Talks Goins, Johnson, Romero, Trades

It's been a disappointing season for the Blue Jays, who announced earlier this week that Jose Bautista would be shut down through season's end. Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos made a radio appearance with Greg Brady and Jim Lang on Sportsnet 590 earlier today to discuss the team (audio link). For those who don't have time to listen to the whole interview, Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith has transcribed Anthopoulos' comments. Here are some more highlights…

  • The Blue Jays were focused on adding quality innings to their rotation this past offseason, as evidenced by the acquisition of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. One element Anthopoulos says the Jays should have been more focused on is the team's defense. He also stresses it's important to reassess their thinking from last offseason: "You have to look back. If you're going to be arrogant and stubborn and think you had all the answers and 'oh it just didn't work out,' I don't think you're going to get any better."
  • Anthopoulos feels that, from a defensive standpoint, rookie Ryan Goins could be the best second baseman the Blue Jays have had since Orlando Hudson in his prime. Indeed, both UZR/150 (+40.6) and The Fielding Bible (+6 runs) rave about Goins defense in an admittedly microscopic 99-inning sample size. He adds that over the past month, Brett Lawrie has been as locked-in defensively (and offensively) as he's ever been.
  • The Blue Jays will talk to their medical and training staff and try to decide by mid-October whether or not they will extend a qualfying offer of roughly $14MM to Johnson.
  • Anthopoulos called Ricky Romero on the phone late in August to see how the left-hander was feeling. He asked where Romero was at in terms of wanting to come up for September, and whether heading home for the winter to be away from the grind of a long season was the best thing for him from a mental standpoint. Romero wanted to come up and be a part of the team, even with no guarantee of innings pitched or appearances. Anthopoulos adds that he told Romero, who is owed $7.5MM in 2014 and 2015, that he will likely be removed from the 40-man roster again this winter. Romero will be given a clean slate in 2014 and a chance to win a spot on the roster, according to the GM.
  • Asked about the possibility of listening to trade offers on Bautista, Anthopoulos replied: "I always [listen on every player], and I tell the players that and I've had players ask me. As a policy, we don't have no-trade clauses on this team, and the question always comes up, 'Well, do you think I might get traded?' and so on. I tell them, 'Look, if I can guarantee you wouldn't get traded, I'd be very comfortable giving you a full no-trade, and we wouldn't have to have this discussion.'" Anthopoulos said it's very hard to trade his best players though, as it's usually a case of creating a new hole in order to fill an existing one.
  • The Blue Jays are encouraged by the strong second-half showings of Dickey and Buehrle and will likely look to add another arm to the rotation via free agency or trade.

Blue Jays Notes: Johnson, 2014 Rotation, Harvey

We learned earlier today that Josh Johnson's season will end early because of a strained right forearm. It's been another disappointing season for the big right-hander, who posted strong peripheral numbers but a 6.20 ERA in 81 1/3 innings after allowing 15 home runs. On to more Blue Jays links…

  • The Jays were considering a qualifying offer for Johnson before the injury, but that's no longer an option, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets.
  • GM Alex Anthopoulos will evaluate changes to the rotation this offseason, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports. Though Anthopoulos suggested that the 2014 rotation is likely to have more depth than this year's, it may not have a frontline starter given R.A. Dickey's performance and Brandon Morrow's injury this year, Nicholson-Smith says.
  • The Jays haven't ruled out the possibility of re-signing Johnson, according to Nicholson-Smith, who adds that observers shouldn't be surprised to see the Jays consider trading for a starting pitcher in the offseason. The club doesn't have to lower payroll and could add salary in the right situation.
  • Johnson spoke with Matt Harvey in the wake of his UCL tear to gave the young phenom words of encouragement and remind him that the injury might not require surgery, writes Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com.  

Zach Links contributed to this post.


Josh Johnson Out For Season

Blue Jays right-hander Josh Johnson recieved some unfortunate news yesterday when he learned that his season is officially over.  Gregor Chisholm and Evan Peaslee of MLB.com reported that a visit with Dr. James Andrews revealed that Johnson's strained right forearm wouldn't require surgery but would still put an end to his 2013 campaign.

It's hard to see Johnson, who hasn't pitched since Aug. 6, cashing in on a hefty deal this winter, given his overall struggles.  Johnson gave Toronto 16 starts in total this season, racking up a 6.20 ERA with 9.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 45.1 percent ground-ball rate.  Optimists could look to Johnson's 4.61 FIP, 3.58 xFIP and 3.73 SIERA and expect a rebound.  More than 18 percent of fly-balls allowed by Johnson left the yard — an eight percent increase over the league average.  Because of that unnaturally high rate, there's reason to believe more in his K/BB numbers than his home run totals.  Johnson carried a 7.2 percent HR/FB ratio into the 2013 season.

It once seemed likely that the Blue Jays would extend Johnson the qualifying offer of nearly $14MM to ensure draft pick compensation if he signed elsewhere, but that's far from a given at this point.  It's not inconceivable that the 29-year-old could still fetch a decent offer in a thin pitching market.  At this point though, it looks likely that the Blue Jays will get stuck with the bill on a player who has not panned out for them as they hoped when they acquired him along with Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle in last November's blockbuster with the Marlins.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.


Josh Johnson Clears Waivers

Blue Jays starter Josh Johnson has cleared waivers, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. While this means that Johnson may be traded freely to any team, as Heyman notes, a trade remains rather unlikely.

Johnson's first season outside of the Marlins organization has had some moments of promise, but has largely been a disaster. After a dominating 2010-2011 stretch was interrupted by injury, Johnson put up a 3.81 ERA over a full 2012 (albeit with a below-career-average 2.54 K/BB ratio). Entering 2013, baseball was anxious to see how Johnson adapted to the AL East. While he has shown the ability to generate strikeouts on a consistent basis, Johnson has been hit hard. He currently sports a 6.20 ERA over 81 1/3 innings, and a WHIP of 1.66.

On the bright side, Johnson's 9.2 K/9 is the best of his career, and the 3.3 BB/9 he has surrendered is not out of line with his recent track record. Johnson's FIP is 4.62 and his xFIP is a much more promising 3.60. A brief glance at two other key metrics — BABIP against (.356) and HR/FB% (18.5%) — show that Johnson has probably been a bit unlucky this year.

The big righty is owed about $4MM more for the remaining of this season, and thereafter will enter free agency. With the Jays still weighing whether to extend Johnson a qualifying offer, and no team apparently willing to take on his full salary for the rest of the year, there does not seem to be much likelihood of a deal. Of course, Johnson's last start (5 innings, no earned) was an improvement, and a string of solid outings could restore some of his luster. Either way, Johnson promises to be one of the most interesting players to watch on the free agent market for 2014. 

As always, you can keep track of players that have cleared trade waivers right here.