Reports that Baltimore Orioles All-Star closer, Jim Johnson, might be available could have ripple effects on this Hot Stove season. The 30-year old, who is scheduled to make approximately $10 million this year in arbitration, has a 101 saves to lead Major League Baseball over the past two seasons. This is the last year of arbitration eligibility for the 6’6” right hander, who will become a free agent after the 2014 season. Johnson could be attractive to teams competing in the shallow free agent pool, where the top two closers available are Joe Nathan and Grant Balfour. Both veteran pitchers are older than Johnson and are reportedly seeking multi-year contracts with an AAV of $10 million or more. That leads to the Jim Johnson market.
The Orioles have a lack of Major League ready prospects at key positions and a Jim Johnson trade could be used to fill some holes. By trading Johnson Baltimore would have holes at 2B, LF, SP, and closer. Top second base prospect Jonathan Schoop missed parts of last year with a back injury and never played up to expectations. He will almost certainly start the year at Norfolk and look to get back on track. Henry Urrutia played in the Arizona Fall League with the idea of improving defensively in LF while waiting for is power to develop. The verdict remains out on when the Cuban outfielder will be ready to start in the majors. The Orioles best pitching prospect entering 2013 was Dylan Bundy, but he won’t be a major league factor until 2015 after undergoing ligament-reconstructive surgery on his right elbow. The Orioles have no clear internal options to replace Johnson; Tommy Hunter would most likely be given the chance if no other acquisitions are made.
Detroit is one team that might match up well with Baltimore. A deal for Nick Castellanos straight up would be intriguing. He would provide the Orioles an option in LF or temporarily fill in at 3B for Manny Machado if his return from a knee injury is slower than expected. Detroit might also jump at the chance to finally trade Rick Porcello in a package with Bruce Rondon. The Nationals (AJ Cole, Brian Goodwin), Rangers (Rougned Odor, Alex Gonzalez), and the Indians (Tyler Naquin, Jose Ramirez) are among other teams that could be looking for a closer and have pieces to match up with the Orioles. However, Johnson’s perceived value and trade worth might vary from team to team.
2012 was a career year for Jim Johnson. His WHIP (1.019), Saves (51), and GF (63) were all career bests as was his 94% save percentage. In 2013 Johnson’s save percentage dropped to 85% and his WHIP increased to 1.280, but his 7.2 K/9 was his highest since being a full time closer. At $10 million Baltimore may not being willing to find out if 2013 was the start of a down trend or just a blip in Johnson’s success. As Neil Weinberg wrote earlier this week, many teams don’t want or feel they need to pay for an experienced closer. The lure of a World Series might get a team to make a deal if Jim Johnson is available and the Orioles need for young talent may seal the deal.