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.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: