The Value of Josh Johnson

In a poll at MLBtraderumors (http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2013/09/poll-should-josh-johnson-receive-a-qualifying-offer.html)  72 per cent of respondents say the Jays shouldn’t extend Josh Johnson a qualifying offer.

It’s not a terribly surprising number based on his year, but the fact more than a quarter of the respondents said he should – and also the fact the good people at the website thought it was a worthwhile poll – shows just how varied the opinions are on the big righty. 

For many, the thought of Johnson pitching next year for $14 million is ludicrous. I wouldn’t mind it at all. Really, if Johnson had the season he just had but was still with the Marlins, Jays fans would likely go into the off season with Johnson tagged as a great “buy low” possibility. I think the fact fans watched first hand just how bad he was this season, coupled with the overall stink of the entire season, clouds their perception of Johnson.

The simple truth is the Jays need pitching help. And while it may not be as dire as some think, there’s not a lot on the free agent market. You’ve got to assume management had money earmarked for a Johnson extension. So let’s say the 2014 budget was approved for all the raises to current players, as well as something like $14-18 million for Johnson. You could use that money to go after another pitcher. Matt Garza or Ervin Santana perhaps. You could extend a qualifying offer Johnson would likely accept, or you could not extend the offer and try to sign him to some deal for less money.

My feeling is teams are going to drastically overpay for starting pitching this offseason. There’s not a lot out there and there are always teams looking to upgrade their rotations. And it’s not necessarily going to be an overpay in terms of AAV, but it’s going to be an overpay in terms of years. Despite a hairy payroll situation this year and next, the long term payroll issues are nearly non existent, with tons of money coming off the books after 2015.

So why not potentially overpay on a one year deal? After all, there’s no such thing as a bad one year deal, and Johnson’s the only free agent you can potentially get on a one year deal. At least, he’s the only one who could still be a game changer.

And as I said yesterday, I don’t think you need to commit big dollars to shore up the lineup. Just finding decent replacements at second base and catcher, especially in terms of defence, makes the 2014 lineup vastly improved. Left field is up in the air, but I’m comfortable with a Melky-Anthony Gose situation. Or bring back Rajai Davis, who can be an ok option.

The point is, the lineup can be fixed without committing big dollars. I’d love a Curtis Granderson signing, but it’s certainly not needed.

Give Johnson a chance to re-establish his value. You basically know what you’re getting with Buehrle and Dickey – though I’d say Dickey has some more upside. You’ve got some young guys that can fill in the number five spot. Hope one of Johnson or Morrow can be a consistent top of the rotation guy and things are looking ok. Sign or make a trade for a reliable mid or bottom of the rotation starter and the pitching staff is looking pretty decent.

Looking ahead…

I think it’s fair to say that 2013 season has been a disappointment for the Toronto Blue Jays.

And I’ll admit, coming into this season I was more excited than I think I’ve ever been for a season. I knew it was going to be tough but I was loving the thought of being in a dogfight down the stretch. Yet here we are, watching September baseball like we always do: looking towards next year.

Perhaps I have some mental problem. Maybe being a Toronto sports fan has conditioned me to think this way, but I don’t think the Jays are in much trouble next year.

Sure, payroll’s a concern. Some guys are getting raises and there’s already a substantial amount committed to next year’s squad. But to me, the difference between this offseason and others is that it’s now just a matter of filling in the roster. 

The Jays boast more than their fair share of elite players. Bautista, Encarnacion and Reyes make up a fine top tier. Rasmus and Lawrie are not far behind. In fact, I’d say Rasmus belongs in the same group. His 4.1 WAR, per Fangraphs, puts him 12th in all of baseball for outfielders. 

Lawrie could certainly be in that group too, if you consider his second half to be close to his true talent level.

So that’s a core of five players you can be pretty confident about. Throw in guys like Cabrera, Lind and even Izturis, and you’re starting to see solid role players and guys with potential.

Really, and this is little surprise, the Jays need to find a catcher and second baseman.

The key, though, is they don’t have to find a top level player at either position. Finding legitimate starters or a good platoon situation at those positions are all you really need to make this one of the best lineups in baseball.  It’s certainly much easier to find those complementary pieces than it is to find all stars. AA has his all stars. He has everything he needs in terms of top rate talent.

The pitching is a slightly different story, but it’s not – in my mind – as dire as many think. Yes, it’s been bad this year. Only nine pitching staffs have collected fewer WAR this year than the Jays. Strangely, one of those teams is the Orioles, showing you don’t need to have great pitching to have a good team.

However, there are few teams, if any, that will be getting the reinforcements the Jays will get this offseason without having to acquire anyone. Nolin, Stroman, Hutchison, Drabek, and Morrow will all be 100 per cent healthy and ready to go next year. And honestly, I could be content with a rotation made up of those four plus Dickey and Buehrle. That’s seven guys who could hold down a starting job in a good major league team.

Plus, guys like Rogers and Redmond have show they’re capable fill-ins. Throw in JA Happ and you have some decent depth.

Now that doesn’t mean the Jays should sit idle on the pitching front. I’d be rather disappointed if he doesn’t acquire a single pitcher. However, to me it doesn’t have to be as drastic as many think.  Depending on what Josh Johnson is asking for, if the Jays resigned him and and some mid-range, 3/4 type, I’d be more than happy. 

This offseason is all about tweaking. It’s about finding the right mix. No major overhauls. No trading of core pieces.

Just tweaking.

Defending Dickey

Apparently every three weeks or so I post to defend the Blue Jays’ knuckleballer.

Looking back on my last defence, it kind of sucked. I’m hoping this one is better. Because while I don’t think he’ll ever be the Cy Young calibre pitcher many expected, I think he’s actually done alright, all things considered.

For one, he and Mark Buehrle are the only starters to actually make all their starts. That, in the scope of the 2013 Jays season, is an absolute bloody miracle. So, yay for that, or something.

Second, though, and possibly more important, is the fact that since June 1, he’s been pretty decent. Since his first start in June, the Dickster has put up an ERA of 3.75, struck out 6.9 per nine innings and most importantly, walked 2.43 per nine.

The homeruns are still an issue, down slightly from 1.45 in the first two months to 1.32 hr/9 since, but the walks are the big thing. From the start of the season until June 1 he was walking 3.86 per nine innings. And as mentioned, since that time he’s walking 2.43 per nine.

I think a lot of it had to do with the injury, there were reports he was dealing with back and neck injuries early on and whenever you’re tight in those areas you’re going to lose command. There was often the talk about the loss of velocity, and while it was a problem, to me the lack of command was always a bigger problem. You can have a successful knuckleball at 65 mph. Sure, the 77-80 mph knuckler adds a dimension that turns him into an upper echelon pitcher. But the walks were what was ultimately holding him back.

I think everyone accepted that homeruns were going to be an issue. And while it’s been worse than I expected, I think there is still room for some improvement. I believe it was on one of the telecasts recently that Dickey said he’s realized the high knuckler needs to be used sparingly in the AL East, with all the small parks. If he learns how to pitch in the AL East, as it appears he might be, that along with the improved command should lead to better things in 2014.

Finally, I think John Gibbons is also learning how to use the pitcher, namely to have a relatively quick hook. You can look at it any way you want, towards the end of the game things can get dicey. Throughout the season it’s felt like there’s always that one gut punch at the end of the game that just ruins what would have otherwise been a fine outing, and the stats bear that out.

Innings 7-9 batters have an OPS of .877 against him, including a .566 slugging percentage. Those numbers a .721 and .409 before the seventh, respectively.

Each time batters get up against Dickey in a game their numbers escalate, to a .791 OPS the third time up, as opposed to a .705 in the first go around.

Pitches 76-100 see batters hitting a robust .897 of Dickey.

When he’s on, he’s on. If the knuckler’s really fluttering sure let him go. But when he’s just got his normal stuff I think Gibbons should, and is beginning to, just focus on getting him through the order three times and going to the pen.

The heat on Dickey from the fan base and media seems to have calmed down a bit. Everyone seems to accept he’s an ok number three. I think there’s more there. I think he’s got what it takes to be a really solid number three or even an above average to good number two. But keeping the walks down is going to be the key.