Baltimore Orioles and the Jim Johnson Trade: A Financial Perspective


Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

I would love to drive a BMW or a Mercedes Benz. Understand, I’m not talking about a large and expensive variety – just a 325i would be fine, or a 230C Benz would be sufficient. I can do it; I could technically afford it without going broke, though I’d have to eat out a lot less. Maybe in this lifetime I will. But honestly and truthfully, my diet of Corollas and Civics get me to the same places for a lot less investment, even with better gas mileage.

That is sort of how it is with the Baltimore Orioles and the Jim Johnson trade situation. They could have afforded him, but, like me, if they do it, they can’t afford some other amenities. And there are likely some other choices that can get them where they need to go at less cost per mile driven … ah … I mean per inning pitched.

Per inning pitched?  Yes. Let’s take a few minutes to think through the bang for the buck (not Buck – see what I didn’t do there?). Let’s run some numbers relative to Jim Johnson versus some of the other top pitchers in the game of baseball right now.

Let us propose that Jim Johnson would have been paid the 10.8 million he is projected; and for example, let’s say he pitches 70 innings – an even high number for a closer. The math works out to $154,286 per inning. That’s a lot. At that rate, I’d only need to pitch one inning to afford the aforementioned BMW or Benz.

How would this compare to the greatest closer ever on the biggest spending team ever? Well, Mariano Rivera pitched 64 innings at a price of 10 million – so that works out to $156,250 per inning … pretty close numbers.

OK, how about the guy who was #2 in saves in the AL – Greg Holland of Kansas City, who had 47 saves in 67 innings on a salary of 539,500?  That works out to a real deal at $8,052 an inning!

The #4 saves guy in the AL (Rivera was 3rd) – a veteran with a bigger salary of 7 million – with 64.2 innings pitched it works out to $108,246

Moving to starting pitchers for comparison, the biggest of them all in C.C. Sabathia (see what I did there? LOL) – he threw 211 innings for his 23 million bucks … that is $109,004 per inning. Compared to Johnson’s projected salary, it looks like a bargain.

Let me chart this …

NameSalaryInningsPer Inning
Jim Johnson10,800,00070154,286
Mariano Rivera10,000,00064156,250
Greg Holland539,500678,052
Joe Nathan7,000,00064.2108,246
Jared Weaver16,000,000154103,896
Zach Greinke19,000,000177.2106,942
John Lackey15,250,00018980,687
Yu Darvish9,500,00020945,455
C.J. Wilson11,000,00021252,887
Justin Verlander20,000,000218.191,603

This chart would certainly help explain why Dan Duquette would seek to salary dump, reallocate resources, or whatever you want to call it. For the Orioles, about 10% of the total salary budget would be going toward only one player who was on the field about 4.5% of the time.

The counter argument certainly is that the outs in the 9th inning – or whenever the final three outs of the game are on the line – are more difficult outs than the preceding 24, or whatever. There is more than an ounce of truth to this, but (imho) less than a full pound.

All of this is to say that only a small handful of teams can afford a $150,000 per inning relief pitcher, and Baltimore is not one of them. Yes, Oakland would not appear to be either – this cannot be explained apart from some Billy Beane strategy beyond the understanding of mortal bloggers and writers … like me … too mortal even for a cheap BMW.