Baltimore Orioles: Is Jim Johnson Really Near The Exit?

Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Reports on Monday were numerous relative to a strong effort on the part of the Orioles to move Jim Johnson in a trade, with the LA Dodgers being the top projected suitor. Later reports list the Athletics as in the game. That is more difficult to actually imagine.

Salary projections for Johnson are estimated at 10.8 million – a lot of money for any team to expend on a closer, especially the Baltimore Orioles. This would equal about 10% of the total salary for the Birds, which is truly quite a price for a fellow who probably plays in about 70 innings over the course of the season. By way of perspective, that factors to about $51,000 per out.

Those 70 innings are certainly among the 70 most critical innings of the season. Yet even the top teams seldom delegate over 5% of payroll to the closer position – even the Yankees with Rivera!

A salary of this magnitude is beyond not only the Orioles, but also the bulk of organizations throughout baseball. Of those teams who could afford such a thing and who have need for such a thing, only the Tigers and Dodgers remain. Who might the Dodgers send back? That is really speculative, but the name Josh Beckett appeared in a few articles on Monday. What would Orioles fans think of that?

Much is written of Johnson’s  play over the past two years with 101 total saves. That is a commendable statistic, as is the fact that the 30-year-old had 58% ground balls – always a plus at Camden Yards. But the losses and blown saves were the #1 contributory factor to the demise of the bullpen and the eight fewer victories than 2012.

Some of this is simply the nature of the closer role. Failures there are more obvious and remembered than failures in the third inning. Nobody can be perfect all the time. Even a pitcher with a 1.25 ERA or something ridiculously low like that is going to have a few blown saves.

In my mind, Jim Johnson’s effectiveness in 2012 was worthy of a role as the “designated closer.” At any given time in the game of baseball, I contend that there are only a handful of these types of pitchers. And J.J. was not one of them for most of 2013.

For the Orioles to increase (rightly) the salaries of players like Chris Davis and a group of others, something has to give in the budget. Of the options (that have been bantered about) of trading Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, or Jim Johnson, the latter seems the best choice.  This is more than a mere salary dump; it is a move to make possible and financially feasible the acquisition of another need – an innings-eating starting pitcher, a left fielder or a left-handed designated hitter.

The question then arises as to who would be the closer. (My next question is why there has to be a closer – an article will come someday on this!)  The top prospect mentioned is Tommy Hunter. He certainly has the right disposition for this, but his splits against right-handed and left-handed batters are a great concern (.141 vs. .294).  Darren O’Day has a similar problem (.154 / .309).

Lefty Brian Matusz has just the opposite problem (.302 / .168).  It sounds like a match-up committee approach would be the way to go!

Jim Johnson is a nice piece for any team to have. He is a quality major league reliever by any measurement. He will always be a part of the storyline of the great Baltimore turnaround after the years and years of losing seasons. But the time has come where his value to the Birds is more in what he will make possible for others to contribute, rather than what he contributes.

Actually, Johnson and Matt Wieters would make a nice tight end combo for the Ravens! These are two big dudes!

Here are Johnson’s stats over the past three years:

Year

W

L

ERA

G

SV

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

WHIP

H/9

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

2011

6

5

2.67

69

9

91.0

80

30

27

5

21

58

1.110

7.9

0.5

2.1

5.7

2012

2

1

2.49

71

51

68.2

55

21

19

3

15

41

1.019

7.2

0.4

2.0

5.4

2013

3

8

2.94

74

50

70.1

72

26

23

5

18

56

1.280

9.2

0.6

2.3

7.2

 

Twitter: @OSayOrioles / @BaltimoreWireFS

Topics: Baltimore Orioles, Jim Johnson

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