Can an impending free agent’s value be so low that it all but guarantees that they’ll only have that status in technicality and not in a practical sense?
That’s a question that former Miami Marlins ace Josh Johnson will have to answer facing his offseason, and it’s one that the Toronto Blue Jays will have to think about as well — perhaps doubly more so now that the right-handed has gone through yet another surgical procedure, this time to remove bone spurs from his right elbow.
So wait, here’s a pitcher that the Blue Jays brought in to essentially be an ace in their sleeves, who went on to have a career-worst 0.5 fWAR season with a 6.20/1.66 ERA/WHIP … and landed on the DL twice, an occurrence that’s becoming far too familiar for a pitcher in his prime. Why in the world would the team be thinking about bringing him back?
Well, as Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com puts it, it’s because there’s really very little room for Johnson to go anywhere but up, and that the team essentially has the ball in their court when it comes to whether the right-hander will remain with the team.
Though it is worth mentioning that Johnson’s velocity remained consistent from last season (92.9 mph fastball in 2013 vs. 92.8 in 2012), Chisholm suggest that “it’s certainly plausible that the triceps and forearm problems were directly related to Johnson’s elbow.”
Given that he missed 34 games with that injury and was shut down with another forearm issue in the middle of August, that some of his mechanics may have been affected by the lingering issues all year definitely seem plausible. The question there, however, is that even if it were the case and that the procedure for the bone spurs solves the right arm issue, what kind of pitcher would the team expect to see next season?
The important thing to keep in mind is that despite a “down” year where his velocity dipped to where it is now, Johnson was relatively healthy in 2012, making 31 starts and throwing 191.1 innings but posting a five-year low 7.76 K/9 in the process. Was he bothered by the same arm issues as last season? Or was the damage already done from his shoulder injury that took out almost his entire 2011 campaign?
While the Blue Jays should definitely expect to see some sort of improvement if Johnson is brought back, the upside and ceiling may be more limited than what Alex Anthpoulos thought it’d be when he made that trade.
Still, another factor here is that the team could potentially get him back for a make-good deal as a significant discount. Chisholm is perhaps understating things a tad when suggesting that the idea of the team guaranteeing Johnson’s return by extending a qualifying offer at approximately $14 million is “remote”, but is spot-on with his thoughts about a potential one-year contract with incentives.
Knowing Anthopoulos, though, even if he does bend his pseudo rule about deals like this, could a multi-year contract be at play here?
Instead of a one-year, incentive-laden deal, could the GM convince Johnson to come back on say, a two-year deal worth $12 million total guaranteed with an option for a $12 million third year? That’d be a significant pay cut, though given the state of Johnson’s career, how many teams would give him an eight-figure per year salary on a multi-year contract?
A deal at that price or similar should all but mitigate most of the major risk factors for the Blue Jays, while giving the veteran the option of potentially making good in the free agent market still in his prime, headed into his age-32 or 33 season.
It’s probably something that would seem unfathomable given how poorly he’s performed in 2013, but at some point, the chance of buying in at rock bottom could be too good for the Blue Jays to pass up.