According to MLBTradeRumors.com’s arbitration projection tool, closer Jim Johnson is expected to make $10.8 million next season making him the highest paid of the Baltimore Orioles arbitration eligible players. That $10.8 million is more than Matt Wieters ($7.9 million) and Chris Davis ($10 million) are projected to make in 2014.
On the strength of a second consecutive 50 save season, closer Jim Johnson is due a large raise as well. This one is more difficult to stomach, as Johnson’s salary would exceed our predicted average annual value of free agent closers Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit, and approach that of an elite closer in Joe Nathan. Johnson led MLB in saves in 2012 and tied for the lead in 2013, but he also led MLB in save opportunities each year. This year, in particular, his 84.7% success rate was pedestrian, ranking 23rd among those with at least 15 opportunities. There’s an argument to be made that if Kevin Gregg, Brad Ziegler, or Ernesto Frieri received 59 opportunities this year, they would have saved 50 games as well.
I’m certainly not anti-Jim Johnson or even anti-paying-a-guy-who-blew-nine-saves-last-year, but I’m admittedly not a fan of paying a relief pitcher close to $11 million. It doesn’t seem to bother Dan Duquette who told MASNSports.com’s Roch Kubatko that Johnson has “established himself as one of the best closers in the game.”
I guess if you think saves are an adequate stat for measuring the effectiveness of a relief pitcher then, yes, Johnson is one of the best. His 50 saves last season were tied with Craig Kimbrel for most in all of baseball. However, Johnson’s 2.94 ERA ranked him 47th among relief pitchers where Kimbrel’s 1.21 ERA ranked fourth overall.
Tim Dierks of MLBTradeRumors.com projects that if the Orioles tender contracts to Johnson, Davis, Wieters, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton and Steve Pearce, they are looking at an estimated $48.2 million in arbitration eligible players. That’s assuming they non-tender Nolan Reimold, Chris Dickerson and Dan Johnson.