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Kelly Johnson Rumors
It was on this day in 1996 that Cal Ripken Jr. became professional baseball's all-time iron man. Though Ripken eclipsed Lou Gehrig's Major League record for consecutive games played in 1995, it took a while longer to surpass Japan's Sachio Kinugasa, who played in 2215 NPL straight games between 1970 and 1987.
Here's some news from both Ripken's Orioles and elsewhere around the AL East…
- Theo Epstein spoke to media (including WEEI.com's Alex Speier) about his days as the Red Sox general manager, noting that he felt some of the club's free agent signings deviated from the franchise's long-term plan and were made due to the pressure of staying competitive. It's a must-read piece for Red Sox fans, not to mention Cubs fans who could see what Epstein hopes to avoid during his tenure in Chicago.
- “We’re going to go see hundreds of players over the next few weeks,” Red Sox GM Ben Cherington tells Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. “We may end up just acquiring one of those or none of them. In this particular year, we do believe we’re going to get impact players just by getting healthy. Still, we have to come together. I think this team still will be very good.”
- The Blue Jays could look to move Edwin Encarnacion, Kelly Johnson or "any bullpen piece" at the trade deadline if the team isn't in serious contention, opines FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi in a radio interview with the Brady & Lang show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan (Sportsnet.ca's Jeff Simmons has a partial transcript).
- Encarnacion's breakout season could put him in line for a big free agent contract this winter but Morosi says "a lot of GMs are wary" about Encarnacion's ability to play first base on a regular basis. "If you're viewed as a DH, that will affect his valuation going forward," Morosi said. "So we'll see how often he plays in the field and not having [Vladimir Guerrero] coming will certainly change how often he'll play first base."
- The Orioles and Blue Jays have both been scouting the Cubs, reports Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago. Levine specified that Baltimore was looking at the Cubs' starting pitchers and Alfonso Soriano.
- For more AL East news, check out this batch of Yankees notes and the latest on the Kevin Youkilis trade rumors.
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is today's headliner after agreeing to a hefty long-term contract extension that could keep him in a Washington uniform through 2020. Here are a few more odds and ends out of baseball's East divisions …
- Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said he intends to own the Marlins for "as long as I live," writes Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Loria is 71 and entering his 11th season as owner of the Fish.
- The Blue Jays are open to the possibility of signing second baseman Kelly Johnson to a multiyear extension, writes Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com. Johnson was a free agent this offseason but accepted the Jays' arbitration offer after receiving underwhelming offers, likely because of his Type A status under the old collective bargaining agreement. The Jays and Johnson settled on a $6.375MM salary.
- Orioles manager Buck Showalter said there was lots of competition to sign outfielder Endy Chavez this offseason, tweets Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. Chavez said four or five teams were interested.
- The Phillies were scouting reliever Chad Qualls as early as last season, when he was with the Padres, writes Adam Berry of MLB.com. The sides were in touch throughout the offseason, and the Phils eventually signed the right-hander to a one-year deal on Jan. 31 when his asking price came "way down," according to assistant GM Scott Proefrock.
The Blue Jays announced they've avoided arbitration with second baseman Kelly Johnson for $6.375MM and outfielder Ben Francisco for $1.5375MM. Casey Janssen and Brandon Morrow are the Jays' remaining arbitration eligible players.
Free agents David Ortiz, Francisco Rodriguez, and Kelly Johnson accepted their teams' offers of arbitration last week, making them signed players for 2012. In recent years we've seen the occasional setup-type free agent reliever accept arbitration, but not position player regulars or a closer. Without much recent precedent, determining the salaries of Ortiz, Rodriguez, and Johnson will be tricky.
The players have incentive to avoid hearings. If a deal is agreed upon, the player asks for a Signing Guaranteed Provision, guaranteeing the contract. A hearing, however, opens up the small chance of the player being released in spring training. The team would have to prove the player "failed to to exhibit sufficient skill or competitive ability" during spring training. The Padres pulled this off with Todd Walker in 2007, but it's rare. The Red Sox are happy to have Ortiz next year, and the Blue Jays have use for Johnson. While I imagine the Brewers would like a do-over on offering K-Rod arbitration, I don't think they'll try to release him in spring training and then go toe-to-toe with Scott Boras.
I talked to a team executive, a former agency employee, and MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz about the salaries Ortiz, Rodriguez, and Johnson might receive. The details:
- Estimates ranged from $13-15MM on Ortiz. He's working from a $12.5MM salary, and his raise will probably be relatively small. The Red Sox could point to Travis Hafner as a $13MM comparable, while Ortiz's agents at SFX could look to top Adam Dunn's $14MM by virtue of Ortiz's higher batting average. A two-year deal is possible for Ortiz, but if the Red Sox are at $18MM, Big Papi might as well stop worrying about multiyear security since he can easily get more than $4-5MM in 2013 with a passable 2012.
- K-Rod should be an interesting case. On the high end, Boras could argue for Mariano Rivera's $15MM salary. If they're feeling adventurous, the Brewers could actually try to cut Rodriguez's $11.5MM salary, citing Jonathan Papelbon's $11MM salary for 2012 or Rafael Soriano's $10MM salary. Rest assured that trying to cut Rodriguez's salary would lead to a hearing, so a settlement closer to Rivera's figure seems possible.
- Johnson's case might involve bringing in a third baseman such as Miguel Tejada, who signed at $6.5MM for 2011. Johnson earned $5.85MM in an off-2011, so $7MM is probably his ceiling. A multiyear deal is possible here.
A few Thursday updates out of the AL Central:
- Indians GM Chris Antonetti left the Winter Meetings feeling as if he was just a couple text messages from making a deal, writes Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "It could happen very quickly," said Antonetti. "There are some things we could be relatively close on. As we've said a bunch of times, the timing may change and it will take weeks for it to happen."
- Hector Rondon cleared waivers and was outrighted to the Indians' Triple-A affiliate, tweets MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.
- The Detroit Free Press tweets that GM Dave Dombrowski said the Tigers didn't make an offer to free agent Kelly Johnson, who ultimately accepted arbitration from the Blue Jays.
Three free agents accepted arbitration at tonight's deadline: David Ortiz of the Red Sox, Kelly Johnson of the Blue Jays, and Francisco Rodriguez of the Brewers. The trio is now off the market and under team control for 2012 at a salary to potentially be determined by the arbitration process. For further details, check out MLBTR's free agent arbitration offer tracker, which allows you to filter by team, type, whether the player was offered, and whether he accepted.
Ortiz, Johnson, and Rodriguez all probably could have found two-year deals on the open market, but they'll receive raises for 2012 by accepting arbitration. Of the three, only Ortiz was inhibited by having a draft pick cost attached.
11:08pm: Johnson has accepted arbitration, tweets Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
3:28pm: It sounds very likely Johnson will accept arbitration, tweets MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm.
2:31pm: There's a "good chance" Kelly Johnson returns, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. The second baseman could accept Toronto's arbitration offer, or perhaps sign a multiyear deal.
Let's round up the newest Blue Jays notes from the Winter Meetings….
- The Blue Jays are unlikely to make a move for a second baseman until they learn whether Kelly Johnson will accept their arbitration offer on Wednesday, tweets MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm. Chisholm says the Jays remain open to the idea of a multiyear deal should Johnson accept. Since Johnson won't cost another team a draft pick to sign, he'll probably turn down arbitration.
- The Jays really like Angels infielder Alberto Callaspo, tweets Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times.
- GM Alex Anthopoulos reiterated that his club isn't interested in seven- or eight-year contracts and that if any free agents require that sort of committment, the Jays "probably won't be a factor" for them (Chisholm Twitter links).
- Anthopoulos said he'd love to make some moves at this week's meetings, but expects it may not be until afterward that things get done, tweets Chisholm. The GM added that this year's meetings are moving much slower than last year's, tweets Mike Wilner of Sportsnet 590.
Here are some notes from the AL East on the day the Red Sox officially introduced their new manager…
- The Red Sox and manager Bobby Valentine agreed on a two-year deal, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com (on Twitter). The Red Sox hold team options on Valentine for 2014 and 2015, tweets WEEI.com's Alex Speier.
- Valentine reached out to David Cone about becoming the new Red Sox pitching coach, reports Jack Curry of the YES Network (Twitter link). Cone isn't expected to take the job but was "flattered."
- The Yankees turned down a request by C.J. Wilson's agent for a visit to Yankee Stadium, reports ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand. That's not a good sign for Wilson's chances of signing with the Bombers, which Marchand believes are "less than five percent."
- Erik Hahmann of the DRaysBay blog looks at the situation between the Rays and lefty J.P. Howell. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes listed Howell as one of this winter's non-tender candidates.
- The Blue Jays are still open to bringing back Kelly Johnson next year, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.
- Also from Morosi, he thinks the Blue Jays could — and should — sign free agent first baseman Prince Fielder.
- Eric Chavez definitely wants to play in 2012 and a number of teams have strong interest in him, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter links). Some West Coast teams are interested in Chavez and the Yankees appear to be in the mix as well.
- The Rays have some interest in Cuban center fielder Yoenis Cespedes, but probably can’t afford him, according to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times (on Twitter).
- The Orioles hired former Phillies GM Lee Thomas as a special assistant, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com first mentioned the possibility (on Twitter). It's worth noting that Scott Proefrock and Joe Jordan of the Phillies are former Orioles front office employees.
MLBTR's Mark Polishuk also contributed to this post
Kelly Johnson’s free agent stock has improved considerably in the past week and it has nothing to do with his ability to contribute on a baseball field. The MLBPA announced on Tuesday that teams will no longer have to forfeit draft picks to sign six Type A free agents and, fortunately for Johnson, he was on the list.
Heading into the offseason, it seemed likely that Johnson’s Type A ranking would limit his free agent value. His offense dropped off in 2011 (.222/.304/.413 line with 21 homers), so teams might not have wanted to surrender a top draft pick for the 29-year-old. But thanks to the players association, all that’s required to sign Johnson is money.
So far this offseason, middle infielders such as Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Mark Ellis, Aaron Hill and John McDonald have all signed multiyear deals. Omar Infante agreed to a similar contract before officially hitting free agency. Johnson’s career .260/.343/.441 line trumps the others and he’s younger than every one of the infielders mentioned except Hill (Johnson and Hill were born less than a month apart).
Johnson's representatives at SFX will likely make the case that he is a complete player who contributes on defense (above-average UZR in 2010 and 2011), with his power (47 home runs in 2010-11), by getting on base (.343 career OBP) and on the basepaths (double-digit steals in three of the past four seasons). There's a good chance teams like the Blue Jays, Tigers, Cubs and Rockies consider Johnson the best remaining free agent option in a thinned-out second base market.
Given the abundance of two-year deals for second basemen so far this offseason and the fact that Johnson won’t cost a draft pick, he figures to obtain two-year offers. If he’s looking for a two-year deal, I expect he could sign for more than the $11MM Hill obtained. Alternatively, he could accept arbitration or seek a one-year deal with a higher base salary and attempt to position himself for a bounce-back season and a major free agent contract a year from now at the age of 30.
Photo courtesy Icon SMI.