Archive for November, 2012

Should the Blue Jays Extend Josh Johnson and What Might it Cost?

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Photo Courtesy of GMO66

At the time this article is being posted, Josh Johnson has officially been a member of the Toronto Blue Jays for a total of 8 days. It seems like ages ago that the mega-trade was announced by the MLB, but up until the last half week the pace of the offseason really hadn’t slowed down. Despite the acquisition’s recent occurrence an extension for Johnson has already become a topic of discussion amongst media in Toronto. As early as last week Johnson’s agent, Matt Sosnick, was on the Jeff Blair show discussing Johnson’s openness to discuss an extension with the Jays and these same sentiments were reiterated in one of Brandon Kennedy’s most recent columns.

For many franchises in the upper echelon of payroll prowess discussing an extension with a recently traded for pitcher is almost commonplace. These teams being described often trade for pitchers of Johnson’s calibre with the idea of extending said player, assuming said player is willing to discuss the topic. Despite their newfound spot among the league’s elite payrolls the Blue Jays are flowing into relatively uncharted waters and because of this some of the norms that come with a bigger payroll haven’t taken effect in Toronto just yet.

With that said despite what became an estimated $30 million dollar addition to the payroll over the past two weeks there hasn’t been any signs that the Jays are going to slow down just yet. Because of this as well as Josh Johnson’s apparent openness to discuss an extension it isn’t necessarily out of the realm of possibility that the Blue Jays could extend him before this offseason is over. However even with Johnson’s openness and the potential of additional money being available, Josh Johnson himself provides a peculiar extension case.

From Johnson’s first full season in the major leagues until now, he’s averaged just 129 IP per season and has pitched over 200 innings just once. His foray into the world of Dr. James Andrews began in 2007 when he first missed significant time due to a neurological injury in his elbow, which ultimately progressed to a need for Tommy John Surgery, which occurred in August of 2007. Following that surgery Johnson was generally healthy in the subsequent years until 2010 and then later 2011 wherein Josh Johnson missed significant time due to shoulder inflammation.

If one were to look solely at that information and then declare Josh Johnson an injury prone pitcher they likely wouldn’t be alone in that declaration, but despite what is an injury prone past there may be optimism for the future. In Stephania Bell’s pre-2012 starting pitcher injury preview she noted that while the fact that Josh Johnson took longer than expected to come back from shoulder inflammation was discouraging, he had also instituted a new offseason training program, which could provide hope for the future. Said training program was described as such.

[During the 2011/2012] offseason…Johnson worked with a physical therapist on very specific strengthening of the musculature that supports his throwing arm. This type of exercise will not make it outwardly appear as if one has spent serious time in the weight room. It will, however, focus on the neuromuscular coordination of the muscles most important to a pitcher, the ones that often go untrained or at least under-trained, when one veers more into heavy lifting

Beyond that in another article by Stephania Bell, there was a quote from Josh Johnson wherein he expressed his clear belief that his shoulder would be stronger going forward. While we can’t determine too much injury-wise over the course of a single season I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t slightly encouraged by the fact that Josh Johnson implemented his new offseason training program and then went on to pitch the entire 2012 season relatively injury free.

With that said on the statistical front Josh Johnson’s 2012 season wasn’t a complete success. Even though he stayed healthy, he still lost a MPH off of his fastball. It should be noted that dropping a single MPH from 94 MPH to 93 MPH certainly isn’t as detrimental as it would be for a pitcher who throws in the high 80s/low 90s, but it is still concerning nonetheless. As well beyond the decreased velocity almost all of Johnson’s peripherals in 2012 were worse than his career norms. His walk rate rose to 8.2%, his strikeout rate dropped to 20.7%, and his home run rate rose to 0.66 home runs per nine innings. But above all the stat that is perhaps the most concerning was Johnson’s Zone% that dropped 5% below his career average and sat at a career worst 44.4% in 2012. This meaning that in 2012 Josh Johnson threw roughly 600 less pitches inside the strike zone, which is likely evidence of a slight loss of command.

If Johnson were another season removed from the shoulder inflammation that plagued him in 2011 it’s not inconceivable that his velocity would return to career norms, but it’s also no sure thing, which is a major factor to consider in a potential extension.

As for the money side of the extension, since MLBTR started tracking extensions in the early 2000s there has been three starting pitchers who were extended with service times between 6.00 and 8.00Matt Cain, Kyle Lohse, and Johan Santana. Of those three pitchers the one whose career performance most closely matches Josh Johnson’s is Matt Cain.

Over their careers prior to extension Matt Cain and Josh Johnson produced fWARs of 23.6 and 22.3 respectively. As well in the three years prior to extension Cain and Johnson produced fWARs of 11.7 and 11.8 respectively.

For Matt Cain, his production resulted in the signing of a massive 6 year $127.5 million deal earlier this year. Whether you base your evaluation on the all-encompassing value statistic of your choice or any of the many ERA estimators, Josh Johnson would look to be in line for a similar contract assuming no other factors. However because Johnson has a few previously discussed weak points in his case for a larger extension one would expect an extension with substantially less money than the $127.5 million guaranteed to Matt Cain.

The other day when I put it out on Twitter asking people what kind of contract they thought Josh Johnson would get, the answers ranged from 3 years $45 million to 6 years $100 million. As is evidenced by the variance in predictions it becomes a little hard to make an accurate prediction because there really are no players who have recently been given extensions and who were also in a similar position to Josh Johnson.

He relates closely to Cain on an overall level and it isn’t inconceivable that he might get a contract similar to Cain’s on the open market if he pitches another year of injury free baseball, but for Josh Johnson that Cain contract is too ambitious at this current time. Because of that perhaps something closer to the 5 year, $77.5 million contract that C.J. Wilson landed on the free agent market last offseason is a more realistic possibility.

When the Angels signed Wilson to that contract last offseason he had come into it with two consecutive 4.5+ fWAR seasons, but he also carried the caveats that he appeared to be outperforming his skill set and that he had been a reliever for the majority of his career. Josh Johnson doesn’t carry these same caveats, but he too has glaring holes in his case for a larger extension and it could similarly lessen his expectations.

With that said if one were to take C.J. Wilson’s contract and add the 5% inflation that is generally prescribed to contract growth in the MLB it brings us to 5 years and roughly $82 million. If we assume that the average annual value is the yearly salary then the contract and the wins above replacement required would break down something like this.

Year Salary Projected $/WAR WAR Required
2014 $16,400,000 $5,843,000 2.8
2015 $16,400,000 $6,135,000 2.7
2016 $16,400,000 $6,442,000 2.5
2017 $16,400,000 $6,764,000 2.4
2018 $16,400,000 $7,103,000 2.3
Total $82,000,000 - 12.8

Depending on what you think of Josh Johnson, 12.8 wins above replacement over his ages 30-34 seasons may seem like quite a bit, but it is definitely well within reach. If one were to assume that 2012 Josh Johnson is who he will be going forward then they can probably assume 4 wins above replacement in 2014. Given that number and a 0.5 WAR decline after the age 30 season it would give Josh Johnson a total of 15 wins above replacement over the course of the contract and that assumes no injuries.

Even if Josh Johnson is injured at some point during those five seasons as long as the injury isn’t career threatening then he should still be more than able to fulfill the aforementioned extension.

As well when you consider that the price of a win may be going up at a faster rate in coming years due to an influx of revenue through new MLB wide and local market television contracts an extension of this nature for a player who has been injury prone could be a risk, but a well calculated risk.

Depending on how Josh Johnson views his own injury risk he may be inclined to sacrifice some money later for a little bit of assurance now, but if something similar to this is all he is offered he may also be inclined to forgo an extension of this size with the hopes of a larger one after a healthy 2013 season. Of course any action by the Blue Jays on this front is also highly dependent on how the rest of the offseason shakes out. It’s nice to know that Josh Johnson is open to an extension, but with 4 months left until the 2013 season begins there is plenty of room for change still left on the Blue Jays roster and it certainly doesn’t seem like Alex Anthopoulos is done just yet.

The Night that Anthopoulos Acquired the Marlins

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The collective sigh that Blue Jays fans began the 2012/2013 offseason with has assuredly subsided as the Jays completed what may be the biggest trade in their history. In the transaction, the Blue Jays got Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, and $4 million (maybe more?) from the Marlins in return for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Justin Nicolino, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis, and Anthony DeSclafani. Jon Morosi first reported the rumblings of the deal and summed it up pretty nicely too.

Despite the intended sarcasm, Jon Morosi was right, the Blue Jays acquired $163.75 million of total salary from the Marlins and before arbitration the Marlins are left with $32 million committed to their 2013 payroll. That figure comes just one year after their $101 million payroll and the opening of their new publicly funded ballpark. The trade resulted in reactions ranging from “HAHAHA F U Loria” to “OMG OMG OMG”, but on the whole it produced a state of excitement in Blue Jays fans unparalleled by anything in quite a long while.

Simply on a player for player basis, the Blue Jays gained roughly 10-12 wins in their acquisitions, but nothing comes without a catch. In the process of the deal the Blue Jays increased their 2012 payroll by roughly $30 million to a total of $108 million for 2013. That $108 million figure is by no means exact, it is a prediction, but it does include all payroll obligations plus MLBTR’s projected arbitration numbers. Nonetheless that projected figure would mark the highest Blue Jays payroll in…well…ever. The previous high came in 2008 when the Blue Jays ran on a payroll of $97 million dollars.

Furthermore, while it is amazing that the Jays managed to keep Travis d’Arnaud in the deal, they still traded away their No. 3 and No. 5 prospects in Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino. Since the trade has happened there have been quotes from scouts who’ve shown hesitancy towards predicting Marisnick with as bright a future as Marlins fans might hope, but nonetheless both he and Nicolino are Top 100 prospects.

In return for their prospects, their players, and their money the Blue Jays got an improved starting SS in Reyes as well as two pitchers to plug into the top half of their starting rotation in Johnson and Buhrle. In Reyes the Jays are getting an additional 3 or 4 wins over what Yunel Escobar provided for them in 2012. In Buehrle the Blue Jays are getting a consistent pitcher who can and should give them 200 innings in 2013, a change of pace from what we saw with the rotation in 2012. Lastly in Johnson the Jays are getting a guy who has been among the Top 15 pitchers in baseball over the past four years, in terms of WAR, which if he’s healthy should mean a 3-5 win upgrade on whatever back end of the rotation starter the Jays would have otherwise used.

Then along with the big three, the Jays acquired 32 year old J.P. Arencibia (aka John Buck) and a better Mike McCoy (aka Emilio Bonifacio), two players who are likely to be used in backup and utility roles. Bonifacio missed significant time last year due to injury, but he can and has played 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF while also being one of the best base runners in baseball.

The only curiosity I had with the trade was the fact that the Blue Jays acquired two players who were free agents during the previous offseason, Reyes and Buehrle. Whether this means that the Blue Jays didn’t have enough funds until attendance increased, that they’re more hard set on their “No Contracts Longer than 5 Years” rule than we thought, that they simply couldn’t convince either of Reyes or Buehrle to come to Toronto, or for some other unknown reason it is speculation that peaks curiosity, but speculation nonetheless. Of course all of this is easy to say in hindsight, but it would still be interesting to see how things would have played out both this season and this offseason had the Jays signed the two players they traded for.

With that said, in the Land of Blue Jays fans, where apparently anything is possible (yes Kevin Garnett you were right) this megadeal has amounted to proclamations of the Jays being the best team in the AL East, in the American League, and from the mouths of a few Twitterers, the best team in baseball. While the trade represents a significant upgrade, the injury ridden Blue Jays acquired two more injury ridden players. While that isn’t the end of the world, creating a team with plenty of injury prone players could very easily hamper the 2013 record.

Even then, whether or not this team is even a playoff contender is still a legitimate question, but one that can be answered another day. For today we can revel in the benefits of an increased payroll, hopes for contention, and the excitement of seemingly limitless possibilities as we await both the rest of the offseason and the beginning of Spring Training.

PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Transactions, We Have Transactions!

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Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr

So…for once all the noise about the Blue Jays making a move was true. Jon Heyman first reported the signing and a Blue Jays press release later confirmed that the Blue Jays had signed Maicer Izturis to a 3 year contract worth $9 million dollars with a option for a fourth year at $3 million. As was pointed out by the masses, that contract marks the largest free agent contract that has been handed out since Alex Anthopoulos took over the general manager job in 2009. It’s also two times as big as the contract that was previously the largest, which was a 1 year $4.5 million contract handed out to Francisco Cordero last offseason.

Perhaps more surprisingly the Maicer Izturis contract marks just the second guaranteed multiyear free agent contract handed out by Anthopoulos. The only other one? A 2 year $3 million contract that the Blue Jays gave to the John Macdonald in 2009.

A lot has been made of these various milestones and perhaps for good reason, as Shi Davidi speculated in his article on the Izturis signing, this signing may be a prelude of things to come. As we heard earlier this offseason, the Blue Jays reportedly have money to spend as they plan on increasing the payroll for 2013 and perhaps this is an indication of just that. As I stated in the free agency preview, the difference between this year and last, other than this preliminary signing, is that AA has been much more forthright in his statements regarding the payroll and now in his actions as well.

With that said, the specifics of the Izturis deal itself are fairly intriguing. The deal pays Maicer Izturis $3 million a year in each of the three guaranteed seasons as well as in the option year. For a player whom is often labelled as a utility player that may seem like a fair amount of money to guarantee, but for what he provides it looks to be a fair and justified contract.

Maicer Izturis is coming off a 3 year $10 million contract with the Angels and if you look at Maicer Izturis’ WAR over the last three years of his previous contract you will see that he has produced a total of 4.1 WAR. Using the rough $5 million per win above replacement value calculation, the Angels got approximately $10.5 million of value over the course of Maicer Izturis’ contract. While both Izturis’ previous contract as well this current one did not and do not provide a base for a clear abundance of potential value they pay him for what he is, which is a great utility infielder…or perhaps even a starting second baseman?

As Anthopoulos noted in the conversation he had with reporters after the Izturis signing, Izturis as the starting second baseman would be a fine solution to the hole that is currently at the position. Solely on a fWAR level in 2012, Maicer Izturis was worth as much as former second baseman Kelly Johnson while being paid $1.2 million less. Furthermore this came in part as a result of Izturis’ 391 plate appearances as opposed to Johnson’s 581. As well, Izturis’ 2012 season isn’t necessarily the best measure of his true talent level being that it was his worst season since 2005 despite no major change in approach or sabrmetric results besides a few odd batted ball stats as a result of an absurdly high infield fly ball rate, which doesn’t necessarily hold predictive value.

Another point that Anthopoulos noted was the idea that he would keep his options open, as he often does, and if the Blue Jays do in fact find another second baseman worthy of a starting job then pencilling in Izturis as utility player extraordinaire at the price they’re paying for him isn’t half bad either.

In the grand scheme of things the Izturis contract is a deal that is buying out the ages 32, 33, and 34 seasons of a player who is a career utility player, but a good one at that. Maicer Izturis is 1-2 WAR player, with the potential for a bit more; he can play multiple positions and he appears to be flexible in doing so. The fact that the Jays went to 3 years with Izturis could be a criticism, but it really isn’t a hinderance in the overall picture. For once, the Blue Jays seemed to have gotten exactly who they wanted, which hasn’t exactly been a frequent occurrence for the Jays on the free agent market in recent years.

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