Spend Hal's Money: Josh Johnson
October, 28, 2013
By Mark Simon | ESPNNewYork.com
AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Nathan DenetteDo you want this man pitching for the Yankees in 2014?We all know Hal Steinbrenner has set a goal of cutting the Yankees' payroll to $189 million for 2014. Your duty as a Yankees fan is to make sure he doesn't achieve that goal, and our job at ESPNNewYork.com is to provide you with reasons to make sure he doesn't. Hey, it's Hal's money, not yours. With that in mind, we are going to examine potential free-agent and trade candidates in a feature we call, appropriately, "Spend Hal's Money."
Position: Starting pitcher
Age: Turns 30 on Jan. 31
Weight: 250 pounds
2013 numbers: 2-8, 6.20 ERA in 16 starts with Blue Jays
Expected going rate: Johnson made $13.75 million the past three seasons, but shouldn’t get anything close to that this time around, considering the right-hander has been significantly hampered by injuries in two of the past three seasons.
Historically, oft-injured pitchers with a history of quality work (even if it’s a distant history) get contracts with incentive packages, like the one the Mets gave Shaun Marcum last season ($4 million base).
Johnson’s history rates better than Marcum’s, so figure his base deal will be more than that. Fangraphs.com, which runs polls to project free-agent contracts (with a strong level of accuracy) had Johnson getting a two-year deal worth between $18.3 and $19.9 million.
The pros: When Johnson is fully healthy, he is capable of being an ace, or something close to it.
In 2009 and 2010, he posted a 2.80 ERA and 3.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 starts.
Back then, his fastball clocked in at 95 mph and was impossible to hit for power against because he could locate it so well. Johnson’s slider was also among the hardest in baseball (87 mph) over that two-year period.
Johnson is also not necessarily as bad as he looked in 2013. Though his ERA was 6.20, his strikeout-to-walk ratio and volume of fly balls allowed were more suggestive of a 3.58 ERA.
The cons: Johnson has had a litany of injuries to his right arm that have limited him to an average of 19 starts per season over the past seven years, with three seasons in which he made fewer than 15 starts and another (2013) in which he only made 16.
In 2007, he had two separate disabled-list stints, then ended up undergoing Tommy John surgery. In 2011, he had right shoulder inflammation. In 2013, he had right-triceps inflammation and a strained forearm, then had an operation to remove a bone spur last month.
Johnson’s average fastball was at 93 mph last season. Much like CC Sabathia, the lost velocity isn’t something that would seem likely to come back.
The verdict: Johnson is going to be one of the most intriguing free agents this winter because of the combination of tantalizing potential and legitimate risk. He probably makes the most sense for a team looking to go bargain-hunting.
The Yankees have enough resources that they don’t need to invest in a pitcher of this nature. They can pursue pitchers with a bit more performance certainty.
Let someone else roll the dice on Johnson. Our call is to pass.