Johnson trade sets up next Orioles moves

Johnson trade sets up next Orioles moves
December 3, 2013, 9:45 am
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Good morning, Birdland. While many of you slept, the Orioles dealt away Jim Johnson. Now, wake up.

Yes, the Orioles traded Johnson to the Oakland Athletics and received second baseman Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later.

It’s not a shock that the Orioles traded Johnson. It’s also not a shock that they received relatively little for him. It is a surprise that the team acquiring him is the Oakland Athletics.

The Orioles were eager to deal Johnson before the deadline for offering him a contract at midnight Monday. They didn’t want to get stuck paying a reliever, even one with 101 saves in the past two years, more than $10 million, which is what some observers say he would have gotten in arbitration.

Once the midnight deadline passed, Johnson would have become harder for the Orioles to move.

RELATED: [Orioles trade Johnson to A's ]

With Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters in their plans, and their 2014 team from far complete, they needed that $10 million or so to spend elsewhere.

They’ll want to try and extend Davis, Hardy and Wieters if they can, and they’ll need substantial funds to do that, and they feel they can get a good closer for much less than Johnson would have commanded.

Had they kept Johnson, he would have left as a free agent anyway, likely without compensation because a year from now, the Orioles wouldn’t have wanted to take a risk that he’d draw another astronomical salary.

As much as Johnson was admired, he wasn’t in their long-term plans. They weren’t going to sign him to a three-year, $45 million contract a year from now.

RELATED: [Trading Johnson risky business for O's? ]

Unlike catchers, good closers are relatively easy to find. They’re more fungible. You can make another bullpen guy, Tommy Hunter, the closer. Or, you could try and convert a starter into a closer. Johnson came through the minor leagues as a starter, and after a false start in 2009, became the closer in 2011.

The Orioles could also sift through the free agent market, and there are a number of good closers there, and sign one.

Losing Johnson does create a big opening. Even if some fans are happy he’s gone, it’s not easy to replace 101 saves in the past two years.

There have been only 14 seasons of 50 saves or more, and only one other pitcher, Eric Gagne, had back-to-back 50-save seasons.

But, there are many pitchers who save 35 or so each year, and that’s fine.

Besides getting that 35-40 save guy, who may already be on hand, the Orioles still need a left fielder, a left-handed hitting designated hitter, a second baseman and another starting pitcher.

While they acquired a second baseman in Weeks, he may not be their regular there. They still have interest in Brian Roberts, who’ll have to agree to a large pay cut to stay.

Weeks had a promising start to his major league career, batting .303 in 97 games in 2011. In 2012, he slumped to .221, and last year was in the big leagues only in September, getting just nine at-bats. He has some speed, and though he hit poorly in 2012, his on-base percentage was more than 80 points higher than his batting average.

The money Johnson would have earned can help go to finding that left fielder, DH and other starter. If the price is right, the Orioles could re-sign Nate McLouth and Scott Feldman.

There’s a lot more work to be done, and next week’s Winter Meetings should generate lots of talk.

We repeat lots of rumors here. Most of them turn out to be baseless. Some of them have legs. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said the Orioles were trying hard to trade Johnson, and he named the Los Angeles Dodgers as a likely landing spot. Later, he wrote that the Athletics were the prime team of interest.

The Dodgers seemed to make more sense. They have more money and lots of major league players they could have sent the Orioles’ way. Oakland, with its bad stadium and tepid fan support, is seen as an outlier, trying to make do with the wits of their general manager Billy Beane.

On Monday, the Athletics signed Scott Kazmir to a two-year, $22 million contract. Acquiring Johnson and Kazmir in one day seems out of character for them.

Now, it’s the Orioles’ turn. Most of the recognizable free agents are still on the market, and they’re now in a better position to be competitive for them—and for the players they want to keep in the future.

Johnson was a vital part of their success in 2012. It was no coincidence that when he was made the closer in Aug. 2011, that’s when the team started turning around.

Their next series of moves will be quite revealing.