There are special moments for thoughtful reflection about new developments with the Oakland A’s … and then there are moments like these where I only have time for a quick post.
This afternoon the A’s shelled out $22 million for Scott Kazmir and by the end of the night they followed that up by trading for Orioles closer Jim Johnson and his $10.8 million salary. And all it cost them was former-top-prospect-turned-forgotten-man Jemile Weeks.
Do I love this deal? Yeah, I kinda love this deal right now. I may only like it in a few weeks and I may hate it in a few months. But right now, for the sake of a knee-jerk reaction I love it.
Oakland filled its hole at closer without shelling out around $20 million for a free agent over the next couple of years and all they had to give up was Weeks. I was definitely a Weeks fan but for some reason his stock seemed to crash within the A’s organization and swapping him out for a proven closer won’t have any meaningful impact on Oakland’s infield next year. The Sacramento River Cats may have a hard time without him, but the big club will be just fine.
There was a time when the thought of general manager Billy Beane shelling out $10 million for a closer would have seemed insane. But these days there’s an insane amount of national TV revenue flowing through every franchise and $10 million isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be.
Just sit back and see what free agent closers Joe Nathan, Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour get this offseason. By the time it’s all said and done, $10.8 million for one year of Jim Johnson will look perfectly reasonable. It may even look like a savvy move by Beane.
Is Johnson the second coming of Mariano Rivera in his prime? Will he make die-hard A’s fans forget Dennis Eckersley? Uh, no. Not even close. This is a guy who suffered through some nasty rough patches last year and was arguably on the verge of losing his closing gig in Baltimore at times. I see Johnson more in the mold of Keith Foulke and Billy Koch, closers who fell out of favor with their former teams only to find a fresh start with winning teams in Oakland.
At a bare minimum, taking on Johnson’s $10.8 million contract gets you out of the free agent feeding frenzy and buys you time to relax and let Sean Doolittle develop a second pitch and find a way to iron out Ryan Cook’s mechanics over the next year. After 2014 you can cut Johnson loose, have an extra $10 million in payroll flexibility and hopefully Doolittle or Cook are ready to take over the ninth inning duties in 2015 for next to nothing in salary.
The best-case scenario is that Johnson regains his 2012 form and the A’s ride his power sinker deep into the 2014 playoffs with Dan Otero, Cook and Doolittle combining to give Oakland one of the game’s best bullpens.
Of course, Johnson’s elbow or shoulder could spontaneously combust at some point next season because he’s a pitcher and that’s what happens to guys who make their living throwing a baseball really hard over and over and over. Or Johnson could lose his mojo as he creeps toward the wrong side of 30 and simply pitch his way out of the ninth inning. That would leave Beane with $10 million in dead weight on his roster and if Jemile Weeks figures out how to hit again while leading the American League in steals for the first-place Baltimore Orioles I guess that’s right around the time I start to hate this trade.
But for now, I couldn’t be happier with the A’s throwing some money around to plug a glaring hole on their roster without sacrificing any major contributors from their back-to-back AL West championship teams.
Oakland’s payroll took a steep downturn after they traded away Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey and Trevor Cahill and this is how they reap the rewards of having a good, young, cheap winning team. There’s plenty of payroll flexibility to add a Jim Johnson without sacrificing anything of value that can help you win right now.
Beane’s heading into this month’s winter meetings with his biggest offseason problems solved. Bartolo Colon’s been replaced with Kazmir and Balfour’s been replaced with Johnson and by the end of 2014 I think those moves will stand out as upgrades over whatever Colon and Balfour do with their new teams. Just about everyone else from last season’s club is coming back and Beane still has Brett Anderson as a potential trade chip if an offer he can’t refuse comes along.
It’s been so long since the A’s shelled out this much cash in such a short period of time that I won’t sit here and complain about them spending $10 million for a luxury item like a proven closer. Every team in MLB is so filthy rich right now that it’s gotten to the point that $10 million is just $10 million … even in Oakland.