Toronto Blue Jays right-handed starter Josh Johnson cleared waivers and can now be freely traded to any team. This news doesn’t have an immediate impact on the Minnesota Twins roster, but how things play out from here certainly bears watching. Johnson will be a free agent at the end of this season and reports pop up every now and then that the Twins have some interest in the 29-year old Minnesota native.
In the final year of a 4-year, $39 million deal he’s thrown 81.1 innings in 16 starts with a 6.20 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 105 H, 30 BB and 83 SO. There are a lot of ways to spin the numbers he’s put up however. Some like to point toward his 4.62 FIP and his 0.356 BABIP as indicators that defense and luck (or lack thereof) have adversely impacted his overall stats. If you buy into those things it’s easy to come away believing that Johnson hasn’t been as bad as the base numbers suggest. Sometimes, however, a high BABIP isn’t as much about luck as a lack of overall effectiveness and there’s an argument to be made along those lines here.
In his previous eight major league seasons he had never allowed more than 14 home runs in a single season. This year he’s served up 15 already and keep in mind that is in only 81.1 innings of work. Johnson has, until this season, always done a good job of keeping the ball in the park with a HR rate steadily in the 0.3-0.7 HR/9 range. This year that number has ballooned to 1.7 and it’s hard to dismiss all of that with his move from the NL to AL, the change in home ballparks and the fact he’s moved from the NL East to the loaded and power packed AL East. All those points have some validity but regardless of how much a factor those things have collectively been, the bottom line is that he’s been getting hit and getting hit hard this season. It’s not just home runs either as his 11.6 H/9 in 2013 is well off his career mark of 8.4 in 998.0 innings pitched.
His walk rate this season (3.3 BB/9) is relatively in line with his career mark (3.0 BB/9) but it has been creeping up every season since 2010 and in his peak seasons of 2009 and 2010 his walk rate was 2.5 and 2.4 BB/9 respectively. Many sources will point to his strikeout rate of 9.2 per nine this season, which is a career best and this is the best place to hang your hat if you’re a believer in Josh Johnson going forward.
That’s not to suggest the Twins will, or should, make a move for him now but his availability certainly bears watching. The crop of FA starting pitchers that will be on the market this winter leaves a lot to be desired and while Josh Johnson has had a very rough season he’s still going to be an attractive target for a number of teams hoping to buy low.
If he is dealt to another team before the end of the current season, which Jon Heyman believes is rather unlikely, it will work in the Twins favor if they do in fact want to pursue him this offseason. By being dealt this year any chance of having draft pick compensation tied to his free agency would be eliminated. At the present time it would seem unlikely that the Blue Jays would even extend a qualifying offer to make that happen but if Johnson finishes the season strong things could change quickly. Even if Toronto wanted to extend an offer in hopes of getting a draft pick back when he signs elsewhere there is a chance Johnson could accept that deal and look to reestablish his value for a larger and longer contract in 2015.
There are a lot of moving parts here but it is definitely in Minnesota’s best interest that he finishes the season wearing a different uniform. His injury history of course has to be factored in here, but that aside, the Twins front office will need to figure out if 2013 was a brief hiccup in an otherwise impressive major league career, or a red flag that more rough seasons are in his future. Whether it is the former or the latter there is little doubt Johnson would immediately become the most talented arm in the rotation if he signs with the Minnesota Twins this offseason.
A change of scenery will likely do him a lot of good no matter where he goes, but pitching in Target Field as the ace of Twins’ staff, with a heavy dose of AL Central lineups coming through town makes Minnesota an ideal fit in a number of ways. The only questions in my mind are how many millions and how many years the contract will need to be to outbid all other interested teams.