Its official; no one will get that queezy feeling at Camden Yards in the 9th inning, when hearing “The Pretender” anymore. Jim Johnson was moved to the Oakland Athletics for second baseman, Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later. What a difference a year makes.
If the Orioles moved Johnson before last season (like I said here and here), they would have had a pick of the litter of players from several different contending teams. What would have the Tigers or Dodgers or Cardinals have done to sure up their closing roles before 2013? It sure as hell would have been more than a 26 year old second baseman with “potential.”
The lack of proactive nature by the organization has cost the Orioles a great deal, in terms of on-field production. Johnson has been a good relief pitcher for years, but his value was at his highest at the end of 2012 playoff season. For a team that wants to build with youth, to sustain success for the future, making tough decisions, with generally likeable guys, is simply a must.
As for the return, Baltimore receives a player, in Weeks, that could be the everyday second baseman (but confidence in that actually panning out has to pretty low at this point). After being called up in 2011 (which he played 96), he posted a .303 average and .421 OPS, with 22 stolen bases. But following his stellar first MLB season, things went awfully wrong for the 12th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Hitting just .211 in 2012, leading to a demotion by the A’s; playing in only nine games in the majors in 2013. Though he had decent numbers in the minors last season (.271 avg, .376 OPS, 17 stolen bases), Weeks could not have foreseen his career path heading in this direction.
But what could Orioles really expect to recoup in a trade for a player everyone in the MLB knows they will not pay $10 million? Johnson was one of the most inconsistent relief pitchers in baseball last year; leading the league in saves and blown saves. He never had dominating “stuff” to finish out games, did not have enough strikeouts as a closer and put too many runners on base.
Could Johnson have contributed for the Orioles in 2014? Absolutely. If Buck Showalter would move him back into a less-volatile role, in the 7th or 8th inning (like he was pre-2012), there is a good chance he could regain his form. But with the manager’s loyalty, Buck would probably be too tempted to throw Johnson into a game with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. The team simply had to move on and got the only thing possible in return; potential.
The same fans that wanted to DFA (designate for assignment), essentially releasing Johnson for nothing, halfway through last year, now are complaining about the balance of this trade. As for the organization “saving” all that money, this is baseball, there is no salary cap, teams can pay players whatever they like. There is no cash limit in baseball that teams have to adhere to and the Orioles are no where near the luxury tax threshold. And with an organization that has a successful television network, cost-cutting on a contending team is inexcusable.
Did the Orioles clear some dead money off the books? Yes. Will they use that money to acquire much needed depth on the big league club? Only the next couple weeks will tell. Of course, Peter Angelos could just pocket that money and let his “baseball people” make the baseball decisions, with the roster as it stands.