Josh Johnson Rumors
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The latest out of the AL East...
- The Red Sox "may be willing to part with whatever it takes" in hopes of acquiring the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton, a league source tells MLB.com's Joe Frisaro. Still, the Marlins have pretty much closed the door on trading Stanton for now.
- The Red Sox should trade top prospect Xander Bogaerts and more to get Phillies lefty Cliff Lee, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, while Dave Cameron of FanGraphs gives his take on that idea.
- "The deals we’ve seen so far, teams have gotten a pretty good return," Red Sox Ben Cherington said of this year's trades, according to Tim Britton of the Providence Journal.
- The Rays acquired reliever Jesse Crain from the White Sox yesterday, with the return to be determined after the season. Crain has been out since late June with a shoulder strain, and the White Sox seemingly tried to rush him back into action. "Hopefully this time we'll take our time and be ready for the rest of the year," Crain said, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
- Josh Johnson accepting a qualifying offer might be an unacceptable risk for the Blue Jays given their limited financial flexibility next year, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. Speaking to Jeff Blair on the Fan 590 on Friday, Johnson's agent Matt Sosnick said he expects the Jays to make a qualifying offer and "hang compensation on" his client, affecting the pitcher's value in the free agent market. Sosnick didn't say it explicitly, but he seemed to imply they would accept a qualifying offer. Sosnick believes we're headed toward "the worst free agent pitching market in the last 10 to 15 years," but Johnson isn't likely to be a part of it.
- The Yankees are in danger of being "a club that isn’t good enough to legitimately contend and not bad enough to completely tear down," writes Mike Axisa of River Ave. Blues. Axisa feels the Yankees will have to scrap their plan to keep the payroll under $189MM next year, if they re-sign Robinson Cano. Otherwise, they'll have to rebuild.
The Rays might be the only contending team that doesn't need to do anything at the deadline, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. As for the other 13 clubs that are still in the hunt, Cafardo runs down each of their needs in advance of Wednesday's deadline. The Cardinals would like to add a starter and perhaps a middle infielder, but are good to go with what they have. The Rangers got their big fish in Matt Garza, but they'll still be on the hunt for a right-handed hitting outfielder as their concern grows over Nelson Cruz. Meanwhile, not every club has the resources to make the upgrades that they'd like to. The Reds have three top arms on the shelf in Johnny Cueto, Jonathan Broxton, and Sean Marshall, but they might not have enough to obtain another. Here's more from today's column..
- Contrary to some reports, the Twins have received “numerous calls” on Justin Morneau, according to a major league source. The Blue Jays are one team that has expressed interest in the Canadian.
- Scouts and executives are split on whether the Blue Jays could sell off Mark Buehrle and/or Josh Johnson. Buehrle, 34, isn’t the same pitcher he used to be, but he shows that he has value for a contender with performances like Thursday against the Astros.
- Jose Veras has done well as the Astros' closer and he’s receiving a lot of attention from teams looking for a late-inning reliever. However, teams are wary of the fact that Veras hasn't had to deal with real pressure and the Astros' high asking price. “I don’t think you can make a blanket statement like he pitches for the Astros so there’s no pressure,” said an American League GM. “If you look at his performances, he comes in when there’s pressure and he handles it well.”
- Manny Ramirez was getting rave reviews in his first week for the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate, but he's now slumping. Texas isn’t bringing him up any time soon, and the Rangers remain focused on acquiring a bat.
- Twins right-hander Mike Pelfrey is an under-the-radar guy whose performance is peaking and he's available since he'll be a free agent at season's end. It's a small sample size for sure, but Pelfrey has a 2.28 ERA in four July starts.
The Blue Jays currently sit 11.5 games out of first place in the AL East, but even if they become sellers, rival executives tell ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that the Jays aren't likely to trade Josh Johnson. The right-hander's trade value is too low currently thanks to his 5.16 ERA and trip to the disabled list earlier this year, so Toronto is more likely to hang onto him and make a qualifying offer following the season (Twitter links).
Johnson, 29, was acquired by Toronto in the offseason's blockbuster deal with the Marlins. He's disappointed thus far in terms of ERA, though his K/9 (9.1), BB/9 (3.1) and ground-ball rate (44 percent) are in the vicinity of his career norms. Both xFIP and SIERA feel his ERA should be in the mid-3.00 range. Johnson's chief problem has been a bloated homer-to-flyball ratio (14.7 percent) that's nearly double his career rate.
A one-year qualifying offer for Johnson would be worth approximately $13.8MM (as noted by Joel Sherman of the New York Post this morning) -- a reasonable gamble for a pitcher with Johnson's track record of success (though he also has a storied injury history). Were he to decline the offer and sign with a new club, the Blue Jays would receive an additional first-round pick, and his new team would lose its first-round selection. Because the Jays were unable to sign 2013 first-rounder Phil Bickford, Johnson declining and signing elsewhere would give them three picks in the first round of the 2014 draft -- the same scenario their division rivals, the Yankees, enjoyed in 2013.
Tim Dierkes recently listed Johnson in his glimpse at the trade market for starting pitchers (though it appears he's no longer in the running), and Johnson ranked ninth on the latest installment of Tim's 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings.
Let's take a look at the latest news and notes involving the American League East:
- The Red Sox are open to trade market upgrades in the bullpen and at third base, tweets ESPN's Buster Olney.
- One name on Boston's list of bullpen trade targets is the White Sox's Matt Thornton, sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com (Twitter link). The Braves also have "limited" interest in the left-hander.
- Josh Johnson, set to become a free agent at the end of the season, has seen injury and poor performance affect his value to the point where it is difficult to see the Blue Jays pursue a multi-year deal with him, writes the Toronto Star's Richard Griffin. Johnson may be forced to accept a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays, assuming he receives one, to rebuild his value for 2014, opines Griffin.
- The Phillies' Michael Young and Carlos Ruiz both could be on the Yankees' radar as they have a scout in Philadelphia today, tweets Jayson Stark of ESPN.
- The recently-released Miguel Olivo is not on the Yankees' radar, but first baseman Russ Canzler, who was designated for assignment yesterday, might pique their curiosity, according to the New York Post's Joel Sherman (Twitter links).
- Earlier today, the Yankees added first base depth by claiming Travis Ishikawa off waivers from the Orioles. O's Executive Vice President Dan Duquette told reporters, including Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, he acquired Eric Thames from the Mariners last week knowing he could lose Ishikawa to another team.