Former Major League left-hander Kris Johnson has signed a new three-year deal with the Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (links to Twitter), who adds that the deal is believed to contain the largest guarantee ever for a foreign player in Asia. Johnson’s deal could ultimately top $15MM, per Crasnick, though the implication appears to be that the $15MM is not entirely guaranteed, so there may be incentives or an option required to surpass that mark.
Regardless, it seems that Johnson, a client of Sosnick, Cobbe & Karon, has secured a very notable sum from the Carp as a show of faith following a dominant 2015 season and a similarly brilliant start to the 2016 campaign. The former Pirates and Twins hurler turned in an incredible 1.85 ERA with 6.9 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9 in 194 1/3 innings last year, and he’s followed up that performance with a 1.99 ERA through his first 81 1/3 frames to open the 2016 campaign. All told, he’s racked up 275 2/3 innings of 1.89 ERA ball since making the jump to Japanese ball.
While the 31-year-old never quite put it together while pitching in America, there were reasons to believe in some upside. He was selected with the 40th overall pick of the 2006 draft by the Red Sox and posted solid results as a 23-year-old in Double-A back in 2008 before reaching Triple-A as a 24-year-old in 2009. However, Johnson never found consistency at the Triple-A level and ultimately wound up with a 4.46 ERA through 563 Triple-A frames and a 5.32 ERA in just 23 2/3 MLB innings between Pittsburgh and Minnesota. Following the 2014 season, the Twins sold Johnson’s rights to the Carp for a reported six-figure sum after the lefty posted a 3.48 ERA in 132 innings for Minnesota’s Triple-A affiliate.
Assuming his three-year contract begins next season, he’ll now be in Japan through at least his age-34 campaign. That would mean he could potentially try to return to the Majors for the latter stages of his career, if he’s able to maintain this level of success, and perhaps cash in on a notable payday or two in his late 30s.