Earlier this offseason there was some talk about the Orioles possibly moving Jim Johnson into the rotation, but he now seems destined to remain in the bullpen and Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com expects Johnson to be the Opening Day closer.
That could still change if the Orioles acquire a veteran closer, but they whiffed on Huston Street and haven’t been linked to many free agents, leaving Johnson as the obvious in-house option after he converted seven straight save chances in September.
Johnson logged 91 innings in a setup role last season, so moving to closer might actually make him slightly less valuable for the Orioles if they limit him to the role’s usual 60-70 innings.
Another option is Kevin Gregg, who has plenty of closing experience and 144 career saves, but he was a mess in 2011 while saving 22 games and has long been a prime example of save totals being a misleading indicator of reliever ability.
The White Sox have reportedly picked up first baseman Yonder Alonso from the Indians, according to Stadium. The return for Alonso is expected to be nothing more flashy than a “fringe prospect,” though the minutiae of the deal is still pending a formal announcement from both teams.
Alonso, 31, inked a two-year deal with the Indians during the 2017 offseason. His first campaign with the club yielded a modest .250/.317/.421 batting line, 23 home runs, .738 OPS and 0.7 fWAR in 574 PA. The real boon for the White Sox may not be a passable veteran bat, however, but something more intangible — like Alonso’s clout with his brother-in-law and highly-coveted free agent slugger, Manny Machado.
While Alonso’s 2018 output represented a significant decline from the career-best numbers he posted in 2017, he’s still a solid contributor at the plate and, more importantly, slated to remain under team control for the next two years with just $8 million owed in 2019 and a $9 million option in 2020. As MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince notes, the $17 million the Indians just erased from their payroll should give them enough room to accommodate the contracts for right-handers Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber — a bonus regardless of what they happen to get in the trade.