Posted November 20, 2013

Padres take a smart chance by signing Josh Johnson

Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays
Josh Johnson didn't have a resurgence in Toronto, but hopes his luck will change in San Diego. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Josh Johnson didn’t have a resurgence in Toronto, but hopes his luck will change in San Diego. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Context, Josh Johnson clearly hopes, is everything.

The soon-to-be 30-year-old righthander flopped in Toronto last season, with a 2-8 record and 6.20 ERA in 16 starts, though his high strikeout rate and other secondary statistics suggest he performed a little better than those results would suggest. Now, exactly a year after his trade from the Marlins to the Blue Jays last winter, Johnson reportedly agreed to a one-year, $8-million deal with Padres on Tuesday night, according to ESPN.com, a deal that would allow him to call pitching-friendly Petco Park his home for the 2014 season. A source confirmed the agreement to SI.com.

Presuming the deal is completed, Johnson appears poised to cash in on a “pillow year” contract (i.e. a one-year pact to prop up his declining value) in an ideal setting. Earlier this winter, there was word that Johnson reportedly — and smartly — sought to pitch in San Diego or San Francisco, which are two spacious ballparks in the NL West and thus a far cry from Toronto’s homer haven in the AL East.

Migrations to the NL typically work well, given the lack of a designated hitter, but this move bodes especially well for Johnson. AL East clubs averaged 732 runs last year, which was by far the most of the six divisions, while NL West teams averaged 657 runs, which ranked fifth ahead of only the NL East. Similarly, no park witnessed more home runs than the Rogers Centre last year, per the ESPN Home Run Tracker, at 2.64 per game, while Petco ranked in the majors’ bottom third at 1.80 homers per game in its first season after the Padres moved in the fences.

Home runs were a particular plague for Johnson in 2013, as he allowed 1.7 longballs per nine innings, a rate that was more than twice his previous career-worst and that ought to improve in new surroundings.

Additionally, Johnson’s unsightly 6.20 ERA needs to be put in its own context, as some of his other peripheral numbers were very good, including a career-best 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings that shows he can still miss bats. Also, his poor 11.6 hits per nine innings may be partially attributed to bad luck behind him, as his batting average on balls in play was a .361, up from a prior career rate of .302.

Given the cost of good starting pitching in today’s market — and Johnson’s tantalizing potential, owing to his 3.06 ERA in more than 730 innings from 2008 through ’12, including an NL-leading 2.30 in 2010 — a contract of $8 million is exceedingly reasonable, even for someone as injury-prone as Johnson. Since his first full season of 2006, he has thrown fewer than 100 innings as often (four times) as he has thrown more than 150. He logged only 81 1/3 innings with Toronto and didn’t pitch after Aug. 6. He had a bone spur removed from his elbow in early October.

To that end, there were multiple reports, including by Yahoo.com, that the Padres would have a $4 million club option if Johnson makes fewer than seven starts in 2014. That’s an awfully clever protection against injury for the organization, thereby lessening the risk somewhat. With Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, Eric Stults and Tyson Ross already in that rotation — and with other arms such as Burch Smith, Robbie Erlin and Cory Luebke all looming — San Diego has set itself up nicely to not only compete but also potentially trade some surplus, while Johnson is in the right place for a turnaround.

11 comments
William27
William27

this is what makes America great, children and elderly starving while horses arses athletes make $8 million to $20 million a year !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


10's of millions don't have enough to eat tin this country !!!!!!!!!!!!!

ianforbes
ianforbes

Good luck with this guy San Diego. He's a total bust. Our city had him last year and got zero in return. Incredible how baseball continues to reward futility.

oasis1994
oasis1994

8 million? That is crazy considering this guy is never healthy.

I love baseball, but they need (as do all sports) to do what the NFL does with contracts. There really needs to be an injury clause as well in all these contracts. 

quimby
quimby

"Also, his poor 11.6 hits per nine innings may be partially attributed to bad luck behind him, as his batting average on balls in play was a .361, up from a prior career rate of .302. "

Bad luck? What bad luck? He was rubbish. If he resurrects his career, good for him. But while in Toronto, he stunk. 

Tom52
Tom52

@William27 what do you think of TV personalities and movie stars making so much money for doing so little? Maybe you should start there as their careers last for decades instead of a few years. 



gymviking
gymviking

@ianforbes I think the Pads are pulling a Billy Beane, signing a veteran pitcher at a relatively low cost (for a major league starter) in hopes that he will pitch well and when he leaves, they will get a couple draft picks. It's worked very well for the A's, but not every time.

mnico213
mnico213

@quimby Really?  He explains it in the sentence you quoted.

David5
David5

@gymviking @ianforbes Please explain how the Beane era has resulted in so many championships in Oakland, and why other teams are so jealous.

gymviking
gymviking

@David5 @gymviking @ianforbes Didn't say they did.I said the Padres seem to have signed Johnson with the idea that if he pitched well, they could score a couple draft picks out the deal, which I've seen Billy Beane do on more than one occasion.

On the other hand, please explain your obnoxious irrelevant question, unless, of course,  you personally have some sort of mancrush on Billy and can't cope with the latent homosexual feelings that is bringing up.