Jim Johnson Trade and How the Orioles Won Big
While everyone is immersed in a busy day in MLB activity including key free agents signing such as Robinson Cano, Mike Napoli, Scott Feldman, Hiroki Kuroda, and Curtis Granderson, the hot stove was burning with the Winter Meetings fast approaching beginning on Monday but there was a quiet deal that slipped through the cracks that nobody seemed to pay much attention to and that would be the Baltimore Orioles signing relief pitcher Ryan Webb to a two-year, 4.5 million dollar deal.
The Orioles closer Jim Johnson was traded to the Oakland A’s earlier this week in exchange for infielder Jemile Weeks and everyone was buzzing with high praise for Billy Beane and the A’s front office for acquiring the All-Star and scoffing Dan Duquette and his crew for relinquishing Jim Johnson for a mid-level prospect at best with a career .258/.319/.357 clip in 957 career MLB plate appearances. The 2012 All-Star has lead the MLB in saves the past two seasons accumulating 101 saves in a course of two seasons in 113 save opportunities and when the rumors started that the Orioles were pondering moving him, fans were excited as him potentially becoming the relief ace of their team and when the fog cleared Jim Johnson was traded to the Oakland Athletics. What were the Orioles thinking, trading a guy of Jim Johnson’s caliber? Johnson was set to make north of ten million dollars in arbitration in 2014 and the O’s just weren’t willing to pay their closer that kind of money so after eight MLB season with the Orioles, Johnson will be trading uniforms for the first time in his MLB career. So how do they replace Johnson, this opened up a vacancy in the Orioles bullpen that needs to be filled so how will they approach this? Will they pursue proven closers such as Joaquin Benoit or Grant Balfour, at least that was what the fan base was screaming for to fill the void but how about none of the above, Ryan Webb will be the man for the Orioles to replace the great Jim Johnson.
Quietly a move was made that spurred no discussion, Ryan Webb was non-tendered by the Miami Marlins after a year in which he pitched 80 1/3 innings posting a very respectable 2.91 ERA in the 2013 season and it was very surprising to see the man non-tendered. Regardless, Webb was now a free agent, not that anyone had paid any attention and Webb again quietly signed with the Baltimore Orioles and the move was overshadowed with all the big time free agents coming off the board. Webb will be making 2.25 million dollars in average annual value compared to former O’s closer Jim Johnson who will make well north of 10 million but there is no use to compare these two men because clearly they’re not compatible, right? Wrong! To the naked eye if someone said who is more valuable Ryan Webb or Jim Johnson it would be a no-brainer but digging into further analysis it’s so much closer than anyone thinks. Jim Johnson posted a career 3.11 ERA and 3.55 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) which is a stat that quantifies what a pitcher can control home runs, strikeouts, and walks because once the ball is in play it is up to the defensive talent and alignment that dictates out from hits a lot of the time so it measures 33 percent of the outcomes in MLB and adjusts it on an ERA type scale, compared to Ryan Webb who owns a career 3.29 ERA and 3.45 FIP. Their career numbers are remarkably similar, not to mention Webb happens to be three years younger than Johnson and yet Johnson will make 10 million plus in 2014 and Webb will make 2.25 million while most likely posting similar numbers. Webb has posted 50 or more innings in each of the last four seasons showing us his durability, so why is Webb making so much less? You may make the argument of Jim Johnson being a “proven closer” but I think that theory has been more then proved wrong when notorious setup men who everyone thought would struggle having to fill the role of the proven closer who went down like Koji Uehara, Edward Mujica, and Mark Melancon more then exceled in their role. This is how you build a championship team, you separate the emotional attachment from a fan favorite who quite frankly is making too much money compared to guys like Ryan Webb on the market who can be just as effective, paying big money on these proven closers is the wrong way to go just ask the Phillies. I am not sure why the A’s who have been finding nuance in value in the game would make a move to pay a guy to pitch 80 innings for that kind of money unless they are planning on converting Jim Johnson to a starter which he did in the minor leagues which is a whole different story if you’re getting 120 more innings from him. This is the economics of winning baseball, now the O’s can disperse the money around the diamond to more positions of need while getting roughly the same production from Ryan Webb in the bullpen 7.75 million less. The Orioles won big on this move despite popular belief and this can’t go unnoticed this is how you win baseball.
Patrick Green is a Staff Writer for Pro Sports Extra.