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.