Jim Johnson

Well, it wasn’t the Dodgers, but the Orioles found a suitor for their closer before the midnight non-tender deadline. Jim Johnson has been traded to the Oakland Athletics for Jemile Weeks.

Johnson projected to make over $10 million in arbitration and the O’s were looking to shed payroll. In return Baltimore gets a 26 year old second baseman who hit .271/.376/.369 in Triple-A last season and is under team control through 2019.

Weeks appeared in just eight games in the big leagues in 2013, recording one hit in nine at-bats. After his breakout season in 2011 (.303/.340/.421), his offensive production declined in 2012 (.221/.305/.304).

Were you expecting more in return for the American League saves leader? With a price tag that hefty, you probably shouldn’t have. The fact is, the Orioles should have either signed Johnson to an extension after the 2012 season or traded him that winter. They didn’t do either and were forced to deal him this offseason.

It’s impossible to say whether this was a good or bad move by the Orioles as of right now. If they go out and use this freed up payroll to invest in a solid rotation arm like a Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza, moving Johnson was a no brainer. If they invest that saved $10 million in a guy like Bartolo Colon, then this move looks awful.

As for Johnson, he was a fan favorite, but his productivity can be replaced for much less money. Grantland’s Jonah Keri points out that the Marlins non-tendered relief pitcher Ryan Webb, who posted very similar numbers to Johnson, rather than pay him $1.5 million in 2014.

The good news for Orioles fans is that we may have seen the best of Jim Johnson. His 1.280 WHIP ranked 43rd among qualified relief pitchers despite a 2.94 ERA. Johnson is a rare pitch to contract closer who allowed 9.2 hits per nine inning in 2013. By comparison, A’s closer and current free agent Grant Balfour, allowed 6.9 hits per nine innings and posted a 1.197 WHIP. A roomier home ballpark could help JJ’s numbers though.

The move makes sense for both Billy Beane and Dan Duquette as the A’s need a replacement for Balfour and the O’s need a second baseman. However both Johnson and Weeks come with many questions. As Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors writes, Weeks will have to prove he’s a regular everyday big leaguer, while Johnson will have to live up to that hefty contract.