Dan Duquette dropped a surprise on reporters last Friday. He said that the Orioles would offer a contract to Jim Johnson.
To some of us, it was a mild surprise. The date for tendering contracts hasn’t yet been set, and Johnson is probably due for a big raise.
He settled for $6.5 million last year, and after his second straight season of 50 or more saves, Johnson is in line for another hefty increase.
Duquette says he wants to sign long-term contracts with Chris Davis and Matt Wieters this winter. Even with Brian Roberts’ $10 million contract coming off the board, replacing that money with increases for Davis, Wieters and Johnson seems a bit much.
“Jimmy has done something historic in terms of the number of games he has saved over the last couple years. He has established significant value by doing that in consecutive years,” Duquette said.
“I think that Johnson has established himself as a top closer in the big leagues when you look at the top savers in the league. He is right up there.”
If the Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations is correct, Johnson will be the closer next season, even after nine blown saves.
He’ll probably earn around $8 million, and presumably anchor the bullpen next season.
2013’s bullpen didn’t perform as well as the year before. Of course, there were nine blown saves this year and only three the year before by Johnson.
This year’s bullpen was missing an effective Pedro Strop, who was awful until finally traded to the Cubs in July. Luis Ayala was dealt to Atlanta early in the season. Darren O’Day and Troy Patton weren’t as commanding this year, either.
2013’s bullpen did feature full seasons of Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz, two players who’d rather start than relieve. Hunter’s year was an unqualified success. As a setup man and occasional closer when Johnson needed rest, Hunter curtailed his biggest problem: the home run ball.
In 2012, Hunter mostly started and allowed a ghastly 2.2 home runs per nine innings. This year, he allowed 1.1, and nine of the 11 he gave up were solos. The other two were two-run homers.
While he didn’t have the physical makeup to be an everyday closer, he could be that in the future. Johnson is entering his free agent year, and even if he does return to the Orioles in 2014, it’s hard to see them making a long-term commitment to him unless he returns to his 2012 form.
Matusz, who had success in his first tries as a reliever in 2012, had a decent 2013. He was used as a left-handed specialist most often. Not once in his 65 appearances did he complete two innings. He held lefties to a .168 average and was particularly devastating against David Ortiz.
Big Papi is 1-for-20 with 12 strikeouts against Matusz.
Matusz isn’t as good against right-handers. They’re hitting .302 against him.
In 2011, a disastrous season for Matusz, he allowed an astounding 3.3 home runs per nine innings. By this year, he cut that dramatically. He allowed only three in 50 innings, a ratio of .5 per nine.
At 26, Matusz doesn’t want to be typecast as the lefty specialist. The Orioles made him the fourth overall pick in the draft in 2008, and he quickly made his way to the majors.
After the historically bad 2011 season (1-9, 10.69 ERA), his future was in doubt, and after a disappointing first half in 2012, Matusz found himself in the minors.
When Patton was hurt, the Orioles had no suitable left-handed alternatives, and they converted him to a reliever.
He made $1.6 million in 2013, and he’s also due for a sizable bump.
The Orioles may be forced to trade him.
2014’s bullpen will probably have some new faces. Josh Stinson proved himself worthy of serious consideration after a strong September. Kevin Gausman will likely start next season.
Francisco Rodriguez will be elsewhere, and T.J. McFarland has a good chance to be starting in Norfolk. It’s commendable that the Orioles were able to keep McFarland on the roster all season, but he still needs regular work. He’ll soon be going off to Venezuela.
A left-handed option for next season may be Chris Jones. Jones was obtained from Atlanta in April for Ayala. Jones was 4-4 with a 2.67 ERA at Norfolk.
With lots of free agent relievers on the market, it will be a busy winter as the Orioles attempt to reconstruct their bullpen.
NOTE: Tom Clancy, the best-selling author and part-owner of the Orioles died in Baltimore on Tuesday night at 66. Clancy was the team’s vice chairman of community projects and public affairs. He’s the second part-owner to die in the past two months. John Laporte died in August.