Rage no more.
The Oakland Athletics and Jim Johnson have agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal to avoid arbitration. The presence of Johnson in the ninth inning transforms the A’s bullpen into the best in the game.
Johnson was acquired by the green and gold in December for second baseman Jemile Weeks in what looked like a cost-cutting move by the Baltimore Orioles. Minor league catcher David Freitas was the player to be named that also went over to the O’s in the deal.
The right-hander’s fat payday was driven by his 101 Major League leading saves and 2.71 ERA over the past two years. He also made the All-Star team in 2012. Even though Johnson went 3-8 with nine blown saves last season, he still managed to close out 50 games. He will take over the ninth inning left vacated by the colorful and fiery Grant Balfour (just ask Victor Martinez).
The trading for and signing Johnson fortifies the ninth inning, making Oakland’s bullpen the scariest bunch of arms to face. When you can throw out Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson and then Johnson in the ninth, the game seemingly comes down to only getting through the first five innings — not a problem with the A’s starting staff.
Lost in the shuffle is Dan Otero who had a breakout performance out of the Oakland ‘pen last season. The right-hander was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants and started the season in Sacramento before eventually getting called up to the big leagues. Otero finished the season 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA. Coming down the stretch, Bob Melvin would often call upon Otero, rather than Cook, to start a key inning or finish off a batter.
Unfortunately, the “rage” will disappear in the ninth inning for the A’s this year. Signing Balfour to a multiyear deal doesn’t make financial sense. The elephants made a deal to acquire a proven and All-Star closer in Johnson, not to mention his $10 million salary for this year, and can groom one of their talented and less costly arms in Doolittle or Cook to take over the closer’s role in 2015. Cook has experience in the closer’s role, and Doolittle is a mini version of Balfour. Both have the attitude, persona and can throw in the upper-90s — all attributes of a closer.
It seemed like A’s and the O’s traded closers for the upcoming season after Baltimore signed the mad Aussie to a two-deal worth $15 million. However, Buster Olney reported that concerns grew over Balfour’s knee and wrist, and the Orioles backed out of the deal.
So for now Balfour is out of a job while the Oakland bullpen can get the job done.
Adam Kreamer is the Athletics writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @adam_Kreamer.