Report: Padres sign Josh Johnson

Nov 19, 11:33 PM

After a disastrous 2013 campaign with the Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Johnson has bolted to the opposite side of the continent, signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the San Diego Padres, hoping to rehabilitate his career in the forgiving confines of Petco Park.

Along with eight million guaranteed dollars, Johnson will earn a bonus if he can start 26 games for the Padres.

And while Johnson has added incentive to stay healthy, the Padres insured themselves, should Johnson get hurt:

It should come as no surprise that the nine-year veteran is headed back to the National League, where he, for the most part, was a dominant pitcher.

Although the money Johnson will receive in San Diego is nothing to sneeze at, the 29-year-old was figured to be the biggest fish of the 2014 free agent class before winning just two games -- with an ERA of 6.20 -- in 16 starts with Toronto.

The contract agreed upon Tuesday is a far-cry from the rumors at this time last season, where pundits believed Johnson could sign one of the richest contracts for a pitcher in baseball history.

But despite his lost season, there was no shortage of interest from teams looking to roll the dice.

Nov 20, 2:31 PM

Padres double-up their risk by signing shadow of Josh Johnson

Nov 20, 2:31 PM

Things are different for the San Diego Padres. They are a franchise without stakes, so technically all their signings are low risk. When Josh Johnson signs a one-year deal with the Padres for $8MM plus options (adding $1.25MM if he makes 26 starts and a $4MM team option if he makes fewer than seven starts), it looks like a decent low risk, high reward signing. The big right-hander becomes the latest in a long line of pitchers attempting to treat the Padres like a rebound relationship after posting a nightmare season with the Blue Jays in 2013.

Because the dollar amount is as insignificant as the Padres chances for contention, this signing looks like a no-brainer for them. They don’t actually need Josh Johnson to be anything for them, so even if he’s awful, it doesn’t really deter their plans for future third-place finishes.

Which is good because there’s a good chance Josh Johnson just keeps on being awful as he was in 2013. The potential outcomes of Josh Johnson’s performance represents the difference between the Padres trading an effective pitcher, possibly reaping a compensation draft pick or jettisoning a broken player. But which is most likely? Just what are the Padres going to get in 2014?

Signing Josh Johnson comes with more risk than you realize. Often, pillow contracts like this go to pitchers struggling with either health OR performance issues – Johnson comes with both. There are little in the way of guarantees he will be healthy enough to make 20 starts or good enough to earn them.

Josh Johnson was once the National League’s best starter, boring his 95 mph fastball onto the unsuspecting hands of NL hitters and preventing home runs better than nearly every pitcher in baseball. While Johnson’s fastball velocity dipped across each of the last three seasons, he still average a reasonable 92.5 mph in 2013.

The problem with Johnson is not the speed of pitches but the location. Whether he was limited physically or mentally, Josh Johnson threw fewer pitches in the strike zone than nearly any other starter pitcher in baseball. This wasn’t just a 2013 phenomenon, this was part of an ongoing trend for the big right-hander.

So Johnson struggled to throw strikes with all his pitches, continuing a disconcerting trend. Batters still swung and missed his breaking balls at a healthy rate – though they did drive them with impunity when bat met ball.

The degree to which Josh Johnson was battered in 2013 is subject to much debate. Johnson’s strikeout and walk rates are still quite respectable, good even. He coaxed a very high rate of swinging strikes on all his pitches, his breaking balls in particular. All reasons for hope in San Diego.

Another reason some are betting on a Josh Johnson recovery relates to his injury and the fluky nature of his 2013 season. His home run rate was sky high after a career of preventing the long ball. His batting average on balls in play also tracked well above his career norms. Assuming a return to health and a little bit of regression, Josh Johnson should be fine, right? Hold on.

It makes sense that one stat that isn’t particularly skill-based, like home run rate, might return to its normal season after a run of bad luck. The same holds for in-play average. Balls find holes, sometimes in bunches. But the two together is a red flag. It suggests an inherent hittability that doesn’t bode well for the future. The biggest ballpark in the world cannot save a pitcher giving up line drives by the boatload.

Josh Johnson allowed home runs on 7.2% of his fly balls before 2013, when his HR/FB rate rocketed up over 18%. He allowed 1.66 home runs per nine innings (15 big flies in just 80 innings pitched.) Meanwhile, his batting average on balls in play grew to .356 compared to a previous career .297 BABIP.

If everything returns to his career norms, he’s fine. But can we seriously suggest allowing balls to fall for hits and balls to go for dingers is solely related to random fluctuation? Let’s consider the company Johnson keeps.

Follow this link for a list of all the pitchers to allow a BABIP higher than .340 and a HR/FB greater than 14% last season. There you will find a bunch of very bad pitchers, some older than others. Here is the 2012 list, where you find more crappy pitchers and also Daniel Hudson, whose arm blew up. Ivan Nova is on that list, which is encouraging. Ivan Nova is also 26-years old, not 29.

All else beginning equal, there was no regression to save most of the pitchers on those lists. The innings cap was set very low, so many of the pitchers didn’t reach Johnson’s 80 innings. Time heals most wounds but not all.

Looking from another angle, here are all the pitchers to post .340 BABIPs while allowing more than 1.5 home runs per nine since the turn of the century. To make these buckets more worthwhile, we can eliminate pitchers 28 and younger (who might be figuring things out) and who failed to pitch 50 innings.

Rk Player WAR BAbip HR/9 IP Year Age Tm Lg GS R BB SO ERA+ HR
1 Jason Simontacchi -0.8 .346 1.66 70.2 2007 33 WSN NL 13 53 23 42 67 13
2 Brian Tollberg -0.9 .352 1.61 61.2 2002 29 SDP NL 11 47 19 33 61 11
3 James Shields -1.5 .344 1.50 203.1 2010 28 TBR AL 33 128 51 187 75 34
4 Josh Johnson -1.6 .361 1.66 81.1 2013 29 TOR AL 16 64 30 83 66 15
5 Sean Bergman -1.6 .377 2.38 68.0 2000 30 MIN AL 14 76 33 35 54 18
6 Josh Towers -1.9 .342 2.47 62.0 2006 29 TOR AL 12 62 17 35 55 17
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/20/2013.

There is James Shields and then there is nothing. James Shields is a very, very interesting case, as he became a legit #2 starter in the American League over the past three seasons. James Shields has a pedigree similar to Johnson’s (i.e. a recent history of high quality performance before a wonky season.)

But James Shields also has health. Shields is incredibly durable – even when he was bad. Josh Johnson is not durable and he never really was. Instead he’s a wildcard on both fronts – questionable performance and a very real injury risk.

Just as Johnson’s overall numbers should improve given some regression, is it not possible his strikeout and walks rates are due to regress (in a downward direction) given his inability to throw strikes consistently?

Consider, for a moment, the case of Tim Lincecum. Like Johnson, Tim Lincecum was once among the three best pitchers in the National League. Like Johnson, Tim Lincecum slogged through tough seasons of late, battling diminished velocity and struggling to throw strikes.

Before we go any farther, the biggest, non-negotiable difference between these two players must be addressed. Both Tim Lincecum and Josh Johnson are 29-years old. The former Marlins right-hander made his big league debut in 2005, while Lincecum came up in 2007. In their careers, Lincecum has 60 additional starts and logged 400 more career innings.

Lincecum and Johnson have a few things in common – most notably, they were bad in 2013. Lincecum was worse in 2012 than in 2013 and even 2012 Lincecum was better than 2013 Josh Johnson. Their K/9 rates were nearly identical (9.18 for Lincecum, 9.19 for Johnson) but Lincecum threw more strikes, fell behind less, induced more swinging strikes, allowed less contact, and gave up fewer home runs (in a more friendly ballpark, of course.)

So while the K rates are nice, for Johnson to replicate Lincecum’s disaster season, he needs to improve in countless facets of his game, reversing three-year trends in some respects. There is a lot of work Johnson must do to become a viable big league pitcher again.

Maybe it is all a matter of health. A return to a release point unreachable in 2013 might solve all his ills and make him one of the best in the game again. But getting healthy has never been easy for Josh Johnson and it doesn’t become any more attainable after age-30. The successes or recoveries of Tim Lincecum or James Shields don’t mean a thing if Josh Johnson can’t stay on the field.

Perhaps Johnson will make the Padres look great by throwing him $8MM and in a transition year. Or maybe the scuffling shell of his former self points to a brief comeback, a player betrayed by his body just on the cusp of a life-changing payday. There is much greater chance Josh Johnson never rediscovers his old form and simply becomes another great mystery, rather than bouncing back to grab that $100 million dollar brass ring some believe is still out there for him.

Some information and stats via Fangraphs and ESPN Stats & Info

Nov 19, 7:52 PM

Blue Jays, Johnson not engaged in contract talks

Nov 19, 7:52 PM

Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca is reporting that Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, and free agent starter Josh Johnson have not engaged in recent talks, and that the pitcher likely has better options elsewhere - all but slamming the door on the possibility of Johnson spending a second season north of the border. 

Earlier this week, it was reported by Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle that Johnson was likely headed to California, to sign with either the San Diego Padres, or San Francisco Giants.

After the worst season of his nine-year career, winning just two games and having his ERA balloon to 6.20, it appears as though Johnson is looking to get as far away from Toronto as possible - to the gentle confines of pitcher-friendly NL West parks.

Nov 19, 3:12 PM

Report: Josh Johnson considering offers from 3-4 teams

Nov 19, 3:12 PM

Not so fast San Diego Padres, free agent pitcher Josh Johnson reportedly has some options. 

Johnson's wish list included the Padres and San Francisco Giants but now it sounds like there could be a bit of a bidding war for the 29-year-old's services. 

A former two-time All-Star, Johnson is coming off the worst season of his nine-year career.

CareerIPW-LERAWHIPSO/BB
2013 (TOR)81.12 - 86.211.6683/30
2005 - 2012 (MIA)916.256 - 373.151.233832/308
Nov 19, 8:50 AM

Report: Josh Johnson likely to sign with San Diego

Nov 19, 8:50 AM

With the San Francisco Giants signing Tim Hudson Monday, free agent starting pitcher Josh Johnson's wish list has been dwindled down to one team. 

Giants beat writer Henry Schulman believes Johnson will land in San Diego on a one-year deal. 

Nov 18, 6:29 PM

Report: Free-agent SP Josh Johnson let Giants, Padres know they're his first choices

Nov 18, 6:29 PM

Free-agent starting pitcher Josh Johnson, who spent a nightmarish season in Toronto in 2013, after eight years with the Marlins, reportedly wants to go home to the west coast:

Johnson made $13.75 million last season with the Blue Jays, and wasn't tendered a $14.1-million qualifying offer. He may be too pricey for the Giants, considering they signed Tim Hudson, and are now looking for a fifth starter. 

Schulman, who writes for the San Francisco Chronicle, adds that he doesn't know if the Giants offered Johnson a contract, and that Johnson may find the Padres more receptive now that Hudson's headed to San Francisco. 

Schulman also notes, as others have in the offseason, that Johnson remains likely to secure a one-year deal, no matter where he signs, as he tries to rebuild his value after a disastrous 2013. 

If you can stomach Johnson's terrible 2013 numbers, and to read comments in which he says he's fully healthy after right elbow surgery, check out the storyline below. 

Nov 13, 7:15 PM

Report: Royals covet Josh Johnson

Nov 13, 7:15 PM

Wednesday, ESPN's Buster Olney reported that the Kansas City Royals are hoping to see free agent right-hander Josh Johnson in a different shade of blue in 2014.

Johnson will likely receive plenty of inquiries this winter, as any team that signs him will not have to concede a compensatory draft pick to the Toronto Blue Jays, who opted against extending him a qualifying offer.

Nov 4, 7:11 PM

Josh Johnson: 'I wish I would have thrown the ball better' in Toronto

Nov 4, 7:11 PM

Starting pitcher Josh Johnson is officially a free agent after the Blue Jays didn't tender him a $14.1-million qualifying offer, and he's both excited about free agency, and still disappointed about his nightmare 2013 season, writes Sportsnet's Shi Davidi. 

Johnson said:

"I guess I’m not really too surprised with the way everything went down last year and how I pitched whenever I was out there. It’s tough to be (in Toronto) for only one year and to have that bad of a year, it’s disappointing. Now I get thrown into free agency and get to experience it a little bit and see what it’s about. Excited, but still a little disappointed in how last year went.

"Even as I was throwing the ball that bad, everyone was always supporting me and that was good to see. It was awesome, I just wish I would have thrown the ball better while I was there. That’s pretty much what it comes down to. It’s tough to leave it like that. I don’t know if there’s a chance of going back there or not, I’ve got to figure that out in the next week or so."

Davidi writes that 19 teams have already been in touch with Johnson, who's looking to rebuild his value in 2014:

"A contract guaranteeing [Johnson] $6-$10 million plus incentives isn’t out of the question and there will be strong interest in the 29-year-old – 19 teams are said to have already inquired about him to some degree. Feeling strong after surgery last month to remove a bone spur and loose bodies from his elbow, he may very well regain his past all-star form somewhere else."

Johnson, most importantly, says he's healthy:

"(Dr. James Andrews) said everything looks great, everything is going according to plan. I’m 100 percent, pretty much full go for everything except for golf, that’s pretty much it. He said I can start swinging a club in about five days, so it’s going pretty fast and everything feels great.

"I felt like my triceps all the way up to pretty much armpit released just about two weeks ago. It was sore, but I feel like it’s starting to get back to normal than what it was for however long.

"We were doing treatment on my triceps since pretty much the first day I showed up at spring training. That was very minor, there was just a little tightness, but we did stuff to it all year long. I guess (the surgery) was something that had to happen, I wish it could have gotten done earlier, came back and pitched in the season and thrown the ball well. It didn’t really work out like that. That’s what the last ditch effort is, to have that surgery."

Johnson made $13.75 million in 2013, the final year of a four-year, $39-million extension he signed with the Marlins in January 2010. 

Nov 4, 2:12 PM

Report: Blue Jays will not extend qualifying offer to P Josh Johnson

Nov 4, 2:12 PM

The Toronto Blue Jays will reportedly not tender a qualifying offer of $14.1 million to right-handed pitcher Josh Johnson ahead of Major League Baseball's free agency period.

Johnson was 2-8 in 16 starts last season with an ERA of 6.20 

In choosing to not qualify Johnson, Toronto will not receive any compensation if he chooses to sign elsewhere.

Nov 2, 8:10 AM

Report: Free agent SP Johnson receiving plenty of calls

Nov 2, 8:10 AM

Despite enduring an ugly 2013 campaign marred by injury and ineffectiveness, free agent right-hander Josh Johnson is reportedly piquing the interest of "more than half the teams in Major League Baseball," the hurler's agent told ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

The 29-year-old is resolved to take a one-year deal to rebuild his value after posting a 6.20 ERA over 16 starts this season, an idea that appeals to many teams with a need for starting pitching.  

'Everyone needs pitching, and Josh has the most upside of anybody on the market,' said Sosnick, who also represents free agent Ricky Nolasco and pitcher Randy Messenger, who is currently deciding whether to accept a multiyear offer to remain with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan or return to the big leagues to pursue a starting job. 

Crasnick notes the general consensus is that Johnson will not receive a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays, allowing him to hit free agency without draft-pick compensation attached to him.  Johnson underwent surgery earlier this month to remove "loose bodies" from his right elbow, and is expected to be ready for spring training.

'You're going to see the market for starting pitching drastically change this offseason,' Sosnick said. 'There are very few teams that don't need a middle-of-the-rotation or better starter, and there's almost no starting pitching available through free agency. I think people are going to be blown away by the market for starting pitching.' 

A nine-year veteran, Johnson owns a career 3.40 ERA/3.32 FIP with a 1.27 WHIP over 170 games -- including 160 starts -- averaging 8.3 strikeouts and three walks per nine innings.

Nov 1, 8:17 PM

Blue Jays mulling qualifying SP Johnson; agent says he wants one-year deal to 'rebuild value'

Nov 1, 8:17 PM

The Blue Jays continue to think about whether to tender a $14.1-million qualifying offer to starting pitcher Josh Johnson, after by far the worst season of his career, writes Sportsnet's Shi Davidi. They have until Monday at 5:00 p.m. ET to decide.

Davidi writes: 

"Which way [the Blue Jays are] leaning at this point is largely contingent on how the club’s doctors assess his health after the right-hander underwent surgery to remove a bone spur and loose bodies from his elbow last month.

"Teams that extend their own free agents a qualifying offer of $14.1 million – the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball – are entitled to draft-pick compensation if the player signs elsewhere. Last year, interest in free agents who rejected qualifying offers to hit the open market was deterred by the compensatory pick, but Johnson is a near certainty to accept if he gets an offer.

"Under normal circumstances qualifying Johnson would be a no-brainer, but after a miserable and injury-marred season that included two stints on the disabled list and a 2-8 record with a 6.20 earned-run average in 16 starts, the decision is far more complicated."

Johnson's agent Matt Sosnick said:

"[Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos] and I really haven’t talked about it much. I can see good reasons to qualify him or not qualify him. We’ll wait to see what he decides."

Sosnick said that his client isn't interested in a multi-year deal:

Here's more from Sosnick, via the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino:

"If he doesn't get a qualifying offer from Toronto, I would expect Josh gets somewhere around what the qualifying offer is. I think he's probably going to be the most approached free-agent pitcher out there.

"Everyone knows it's just one year to rebuild his value. It's not the dollars. They aren't going to affect anybody's job security. If Toronto doesn't make a qualifying offer, we'll probably be looking for a good pitching atmosphere, a good defense behind him and a team with a good chance to win."

Johnson's price tag means the Twins are unlikely to bid for his services. Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff said:

"Everybody knows the situation. He didn't pitch good at all. Horrible. If he wants $10 million, we're not going to be involved in that."

Johnson has a career 3.40 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 998 innings. He has the same 3.40 ERA over the past four seasons, in 516 2/3 innings, and that includes his nightmare 6.20 ERA in 2013, in 81 1/3 innings. 

Oct 1, 12:55 PM

Report: Blue Jays SP Josh Johnson underwent elbow surgery on Tuesday

Oct 1, 12:55 PM

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Josh Johnson had elbow surgery to remove bone spurs on Tuesday, his agent told MLB Trade Rumors

It was reported in late August, when Johnson was mercifully shut down for the season, that Johnson didn't need surgery. What can I say; things change. 

Dr. James Andrews -- who else? -- performed the surgery, and Johnson's expected to begin throwing in five weeks and be ready for spring training.

The good news: Johnson's elbow ligament showed no damage.

Johnson, a potential free agent, is coming off a nightmare season, the worst of his career, and his agent said he's considering re-signing with Toronto even if they don't extend him a qualifying offer. Johnson reportedly enjoyed playing for John Gibbons, and is willing to sign an incentive-laden contract.

I'd list Johnson's season stats, but it's best I don't, and we simply try to forget 2013 happened at all. 

Aug 27, 11:21 PM

Blue Jays SP Josh Johnson out for the season

Aug 27, 11:21 PM

Blue Jays starting pitcher Josh Johnson, on the disabled list since Aug. 7 with a strained right forearm, doesn't need surgery, but his season is over, report MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm and Evan Peaslee. 

Johnson visited Dr. James Andrews, who confirmed the original diagnosis, and ruled out surgery. 

Johnson finishes the worst season of his career with a 6.20 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 16 starts and 81 1/3 innings. He struck out 83, walked 30, and allowed 15 home runs -- one more than he allowed in 191 1/3 innings in 2012. 

Toronto manager John Gibbons said about Johnson's lost season:

"We expected a lot, he expected a lot -- it just didn't happen. He had the best spring of our staff; he looked better than most guys we faced on other teams. Who knows [why it didn't work]? Nobody knows."

As Blue Jays fans would tell you, it's best not to ask, "Why?" 

Johnson earned $13.75 million in 2013, the final year of a four-year contract worth $39 million he signed in January 2010 as a member of the Marlins.

The Blue Jays can offer Johnson a $14-million qualifying offer at the end of the season, which would guarantee the team a first-round draft pick should he sign elsewhere as a free agent. But after Johnson's nightmare 2013, guaranteeing him $14 million remains a risky proposition. 

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said about the qualifying offer:

"I think you wait, because you see how he recovers and responds. They want him to get up off the mound at the end of the season, so that will tell us a lot as well. The fact that we don't have to make a decision today, why not take the time to get more information?

"Who knows? Along the way, maybe he does great. Maybe there's -- obviously we hope not -- a setback. So we'll take the full time. ... It's also the prognosis going forward -- what's the element of risk? You rely a lot on your medical staff and your doctors."

Based on the past two years and the incredible run of injuries the Jays have suffered, Toronto's medical staff can't, at this point, inspire much confidence.