Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Josh Johnson works from the mound against the Atlanta Braves during the inning of their MLB Spring training baseball game in Lake Buena Vista, Florida

2013 is crucial for Josh Johnson

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The Blue Jays, in trading for R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson, have narrowed their focus specifically on the 2013 season. With a roster that already includes two 40-homer threats in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays will be a force to be reckoned with the AL East. Johnson, while he will certainly be in tune with his team’s goals, will also have his focus set on the future as he is eligible for free agency after the season.

The 29-year-old will earn $13.75 million in the final year of a four-year, $39 million pact signed with the then-Florida Marlins in January 2010. If he has a strong season and avoids injury, he could be in line for what may be his last big contract. Johnson finished with a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts last season, a bounce-back year after missing 122 games in 2011 with a right shoulder injury. Since Johnson earned regular starts in 2006, he has crossed the 100-inning threshold in only four of seven seasons. Johnson had Tommy John surgery in 2007 which caused him to miss all of 2008 as well.

Johnson has shown, in the limited amount of time he has consistently been able to toe the rubber, that he can be a dominant starting pitcher. Among those 100-plus inning seasons, he finished with a 3.10 ERA in 2006, 3.23 in ’09, 2.30 in ’10, and 3.81 last year. In essence, his ceiling is ace-esque while his floor is an above-average starter.

Among big-name starting pitchers to sign contracts of at least three years in length this past off-season included Zack Greinke (six years, $147 million), Anibal Sanchez (five, $80 million), Edwin Jackson (four, $52 million), and Jeremy Guthrie (three, $25 million). The prior off-season saw C.C. Sabathia (five, $122 million), C.J. Wilson (five, $77.5 million), Mark Buehrle (four, $58 million), and Wei-Yin Chen (three, $11.388 million) sign contracts of at least three years as well.

It is easy to say that Johnson compares favorably to pitchers like Jackson, Wilson, and Buehrle, but teams have become more and more wary of pitchers with injury risks. Kyle Lohse, who has a 3.11 aggregate ERA over the last two seasons, is still without a home and part of the reason is his 2010 forearm surgery. Lohse had dealt with groin and forearm problems in the prior year as well. Reliever Brian Wilson is also unsigned after having Tommy John surgery this past April.

There is still no guarantee that Johnson will generate buzz even with a strong season. Still, it’s the only way the right-hander will have a chance at securing himself one more big payday. Johnson will be 30 years old at the start of his next deal. While he could take a one- or two-year deal to continue reestablishing his value, teams will be less and less likely to offer him lengthy, money-laden deals with every passing year.

Marc Rzepczynski signs two-year, $11 million contract with Mariners

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 9: Marc Rzepczynski #23 of the Washington Nationals looks on before pitching against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth inning during game two of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 9, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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After rumors of the deal surfaced on Thursday, the Mariners officially signed veteran reliever Marc Rzepczynski to a two-year, $11 million deal on Friday night. Per a report by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the lefty is due $5.5 million in 2017 and 2018.

The signing marks the left-hander’s fourth trade since July 2015. He bounced from the Indians to the Padres at the 2015 trade deadline, then to the Athletics in the offseason, then to the Nationals in late August of 2016. Last season, he pitched to a career-best 2.64 ERA during 47 2/3 innings with the Athletics and Nationals, but hit an all-time low with 5.5 BB/9 that fed into a 1.59 K/BB rate. While the 31-year-old’s split against right-handed batters are underwhelming (a career .277/.377/.431 line with 123 walks and 24 home runs), he’s held lefties to a respectable .222/.291/.298 line with just 52 walks and eight homers.

Adding Rzepczynski to the bullpen should check off another to-do item for Mariners’ GM Jerry Dipoto, though FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman notes that the club is still likely to pursue an additional reliever and a No. 4 starter before the offseason comes to a close.

2016 Winter Meetings Preview

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 26: The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center is seen along the Potomac River February 26, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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The baseball world will descend on Washington D.C. — well, the Maryland suburbs of Washington, at the Gaylord Resort at National Harbor — this weekend for the 2016 Winter Meetings. There’s a lot of work to be done.

Twenty free agents from a class of 191 have signed thus far. Among the notable: Yoenis Cespedes, Edinson Volquez, Neil Walker, Josh Reddick, Bartolo Colon, and R.A. Dickey. That, of course, leaves a ton of notables left, including Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Turner, Jose Bautista, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Trumbo, Mark Melancon, Rich Hill and a host of others. Here is our rundown of this offseason’s top free agents if you’re curious. As you have come to expect from us, we’ll have a writeup of everyone who signs, faster than almost anyone else will.

Despite the sheer number of available free agents, this is an historically thin free agent class in terms of talent. That means that, for a team to improve significantly, they may be better served by making a trade. We’ve seen a couple already, most notably the deals which sent Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks, Jaime Garcia to the Braves and Brian McCann to the Astros. Most experts believe there will be plenty more this winter, and the ball could really get rolling on that in the next week with guys like Andrew McCutchen, Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Brandon Phillips on the block.

Another major activity of the Winter Meetings is the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee vote. Except, this year, there is no Veterans Committee, at least in name. It’s now the “Today’s Game” committee. Here are links to breakdowns of the candidacies of all ten men on the ballot the new committee will consider:

Harold Baines
Albert Belle
Will Clark
Orel Hershiser
Mark McGwire
George Steinbrenner
Davey Johnson
Lou Piniella
John Shuerholz
Bud Selig

Trade deals, free agent negotiations and Hall of Fame votes take place behind closed doors at the Gaylord Resort. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press. This year’s new faces are Torey Lovullo with the Diamondbacks, Rick Renteria with the White Sox and Bud Black with the Rockies. Brian Snitker, now the permanent manager of the Braves, will get his first go-around at the managerial cattle call. I’ll be in the scrum for a lot of these guys — they do them two at a time so I can’t see everyone — and will let you know if they say anything fun.

Outside of the transactions and the Hall of Fame stuff, we have the more mundane Winter Meetings business. And a lot of it. Indeed, the vast majority of the people at the Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings, though this year’s brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement should overshadow that. We’ve already discussed the major points of that and, yesterday, I speculated that, as time goes on, the way this agreement was reached could lead to some serious strife going forward, particularly on the union side. Expect to hear some anonymous rumblings about all of that in the next few days, from players, agents and other interested parties who may not be all that pleased with how it goes.

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected are, but here’s a good place to start your research on that. If your team takes someone in the draft, the most important thing to know is that he’ll either be on the big league roster all year or he’ll have to be returned to his original team. Well, they could be stashed on the disabled list with phantom injuries so they won’t have to be returned, but no team would ever do that, would they? Perish the thought.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene at National Harbor, bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event. As they used to say in radio, tune in to us and rip off the dial. Or, at the very least, keep a tab open to us and refresh a lot.