Josh Johnson’s Creative Contract With the Padres

The news is breaking now. It seems that Josh Johnson has gotten $8 million dollars from the Padres to pitch in 2014, according to Jerry Crasnick. By itself, that is an interesting match — Johnson gets to go to the National League and reboot his value in a pitcher’s park, and the Padres get a high-variance player for a little bit more than the price of a win.

But then I heard a little nugget about the contract, seconds before my internet went out and Jeff Passan broke the news while I was mashing my keyboard frantically: The Padres get a $4 million option on Johnson in 2015 if he pitches fewer than seven starts in 2014. That little nugget contains multitudes.

If it seems crazy to think that Johnson would pitch six times in 2014 and still seem attractive to the Padres, it may not be. It’s pretty much happened before. Johnson pitched nine starts in 2011 before coming back to pitch 191 innings in 2012. He’s been hurt in ways that cost him a year but didn’t send him to the surgeon, in other words.

There’s another situation that could arise if the bone spurs in his elbow end up being worse than they seem right now. If the surgery he just had doesn’t take, and he needs more work, the Padres get him for 2014. Basically, it’s Tommy John protection. It also allows the team to perhaps allow him to pass the physical despite some linguini action in the doctor’s office.

Perhaps the option isn’t likely to be activated. The deal can’t be considered an overpay anyway.

Whether a win is worth five, six or seven million dollars, Josh Johnson has been worth $8 million every season of his eight year career save two. It just happened that one of those seasons was last year. It’s easiest to remember last year.

Sure, he’s lost some gas on his fastball. And yes, he had trouble out of the stretch. But 2012 happened. In that year, he had the same fastball and was worth 3.5 wins in the National League.

Maybe the changeup was a problem for his elbow. He’s certainly using it less often with each year. It doesn’t get him whiffs, but it got ground balls 77% of the time this year when he did use it. Even with the curve and slider, though, he has the ability to get whiffs and avoid platoon splits — no lefty hit his curve out of the park last year.

If Johnson can get his mechanics and elbow in order, he’s very likely to be worth much more than this contract. If he pitches half of the season and then gets hurt again, he’ll probably still be worth close to $8 million. If he misses the season getting healthy, the Padres can get him for even cheaper next year. Hard to dislike this for the Padres.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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Warriors
Guest
Warriors
2 years 6 months ago

Johnson had a 3.58 xFIP in 2013 – I think he will bounce back somewhat pitching in Petco.

Nice buy low opportunity for San Diego.

Brandon Warne
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

I might be burnt at the altar for saying this, but I don’t think his xFIP or FIP tells us much about how he’ll do going forward.

IIRC it was only like 90 innings. And they were borderline disastrous. He has a shoulder issue to boot.

I think I’d have stayed away at that cost. Just my two cents.

Brandon Warne
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

Though keep in mind, I’m speaking from a Twins frame of mind. He didn’t make sense for them at that cost.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
2 years 6 months ago

I strongly disagree, Eno. Johnson at $8M, even with the option, wouldn’t make sense for the Rays beyond any doubt, and probably not for many other teams as well.

Drew
Guest
Drew
2 years 6 months ago

But what about the career high/low: BABIP (+.50 from career average), LOB% (-7%), and HR/FB (+9.5%)? His velocity hasn’t changed the past two years either. It’s a risk certainly, but a tenable one.

derp
Guest
derp
2 years 6 months ago

How’s the wording in that contract when it comes to those 7 starts? If it specifically mentions the official definition for starts the Padres could easily abuse this clause for a cheap 2015.

How?

Give JJ a 6 start trial and move him to the bullpen if he’s anything but fantastic. And if he is…

Pitch mop up reliever for the 1st inning, pull for JJ, have him pitch several innings.

Hungus
Guest
Hungus
2 years 6 months ago

If that happened and the Padres were clearly abusing a provision in his contract, I’d imagine the Player’s Union would file a grievance to the NLRB on his behalf. (Note: I know nothing about labor law, so I could be dead wrong.)

derp
Guest
derp
2 years 6 months ago

I’d certainly hope JJ would try to do that instead of whining about his position to the media and simultaneously suck like he did last year. Combine such an action with his drama and suckage last year and he now has a reputation of being a whiner who tanks in order to play where he wants. Good luck getting another contract then.

Even then JJ wouldn’t have a case if he got hurt/sucked during that 6 start trial.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 6 months ago

derp, indeed.

Devon
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

Had the same thought. I think the best way for the Padres to do it, would be to claim JJ’s arm isn’t capable of going long innings anymore, so it’d be better for HIM and for the team, to move him to the bullpen and make him a closer.

tylersnotes
Member
2 years 6 months ago

doing something like this hurts the padres more than it hurts johnson. that means they’re paying $8 million this year to get less production, with the hope that they can cash in on $4 million next year. The sort of manager making that decision should be fired, not for abusing the language of a player’s contract, but for actively working against the best interest of the team.

SKob
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

It’s called an insurance policy! I’m not sure anyone is HOPING for him to get hurt after 6 games. I’m actually surprised it’s not 10 games though.

Professor Ross Eforp
Member
Professor Ross Eforp
2 years 6 months ago

This is remarkably myopic (read stupid).

The San Diego Padres are a business that has to compete for employees every year. They aren’t a high payroll team and they have zero winning tradition. Teams like that need players like Josh Johnson on a yearly basis, and completely screwing over Josh Johnson is not the way to get more people like him to play there.

Surrealistic Pillow
Guest
Surrealistic Pillow
2 years 6 months ago

This was my first thought as well.

In addition, there is an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing under many (perhaps all) state’s laws applicable to contracts, including California.

Moving JJ to the bullpen after six starts would almost certainly violate this covenant. Using a reliver to throw the 1st inning would egregiously violate this covenant.

Allen
Guest
Allen
2 years 6 months ago

San Diego is “America’s Finest City” and pitchers often take discounts to play there. Petco still plays big even with the right field fence being moved in. The combination of Petco and Bud Black/Darren Balsley have earned lots of marginal pitchers (I’m looking at you Aaron Harang, Jon Garland, Kevin Correia) huge paydays after one year contracts in SD. San Diego won National League pennants in 1984 and 1998 and have been in the playoffs 5 times; so “zero” winning tradition seems an exaggeration.

I do not think it is in the Padres’ interests to screw over Josh Johnson but you don’t need to denigrate the franchise to make that point.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

I like it. Does the option change if he’s traded?

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
2 years 6 months ago

I can’t speak to the actual contract, but the most likely scenario for a trade was if he was pitching well. And if that’s the case, he would already have surpassed the 6 game level.

see toe gas tonne
Guest
see toe gas tonne
2 years 6 months ago

Josh Johnson stinks. And so do the Padres.

bdhudson
Member
Member
bdhudson
2 years 6 months ago

Insightful analysis, this.

Ruki Motomiya
Guest
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 6 months ago

Great deal by the Padres. I’m a fan of Josh Johnson as a pitcher, the Padres need pitchers and Josh Johnson going to a nice pitcher’s park is great for him.

MrFpadresfan
Guest
MrFpadresfan
2 years 6 months ago

Everth Cabrera- 2014 NL MVP
Andrew Cashner- 2014 NL Cy Young
Josh Johnson- 2014 Co-NL Cy Young

Josh Byrnes is a genius and any price is the right price cause I like it when my favorite team gets more talent.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 6 months ago

I see what you did there…

(And I like it!)

Semperty
Guest
Semperty
2 years 6 months ago

Seeing this deal, I was immediately struck with 2, polar opposite, questions:

1. How on earth can other teams pass up a 1/$8 deal for a pitcher with Johnson’s ceiling? Even if he turns out to be worthless, it’s a cheap one year deal – no body gets hurt.

2. What did other teams see in JJ that made them shy away from such a cheap deal?

Tommy
Guest
Tommy
2 years 6 months ago

No one said other teams shied away from such a deal. Padres were his top choice because of location and petco park. He most likely could have gotten more from another team

Roger
Guest
Roger
2 years 6 months ago

JJ approached the Padres and Giants and told them they were his top 2 choices. I don’t know exactly what happened to the Giants – maybe they decided they were full as the Hudson deal was being finalized around that time, or he just didn’t give them as much of a discount as the Padres – but Petco makes a lot of sense to rebuild his value.

DB GiantsFan
Guest
DB GiantsFan
2 years 6 months ago

Giants were full. Hudson more consistent and deemed a better risk than Johnson, even after last years injury.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles
2 years 6 months ago

and the Bucs ended up runner up in the bidding. Pretty clear that JJ understands park effects and how it can help him build value. He basically only looked at the best NL pitcher’s parks.

Josh Johnson
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

$8 million from San Diego or $12 mill from Texas, or similar park, and retire next year after my 6.50 ERA?

Professor Ross Eforp
Member
Professor Ross Eforp
2 years 6 months ago

He could retire already if that is that was the goal.

Or he could make $8MM next year, pitch well, and then earn $40MM.

Yinzer
Guest
Yinzer
2 years 6 months ago

Johnson reportedly preferred San Diego or San Francisco due to the proximity to his home in Las Vegas. It sounds like the dude may have accepted a fish-taco discount.

octelium
Guest
octelium
2 years 6 months ago

I never trust a discounted fish taco….

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
2 years 6 months ago

You must be an Easterner if you think a baseball player could commute from Las Vegas to San Francisco or San Diego, even occasionally.

Moves Like Munenori
Guest
Moves Like Munenori
2 years 2 months ago

You must be an octogenarian if you automatically conflate “proximity” to “drive time,” especially for a multi-millionaire.

jxcy
Guest
jxcy
2 years 6 months ago

It’s no-lose for both the Padres and Johnson. Stunningly so. If he stinks, the end. Won’t be the worst 8 MM spent this offseason. If he’s good and they’re out of the WC, the Padres try to pull off a Feldman-type deal. If it looks like he’s headed for a 3 year deal next offseason, QO. If he reverts to a guy with a 3.30 FIP, the team can sniff a WC berth.

Nicely done.

nada
Guest
nada
2 years 6 months ago

agreed, and this seems to me like the kind of deal probably non-contending teams should be pursuing (thinking especially of e.g. the Astros or the Phillies). Short term risk, possibly high upside, with a tradeable contract that could fetch substantial prospects from a contending team in need of a good pitcher, if it develops that way.

Worst case scenario, 8M down the drain, but only for this one non-contending year. Best case scenario, you exchanged 8M for years of control of a top-tier prospect, which equates to a whole lot of future value.

Impossibles
Guest
Impossibles
2 years 6 months ago

Feel for the Jays on this. They gave up the farm for him, he sucked for his one year, then goes to another team for less with a built in security provision. I wonder if AA was given a chance to counter the offer.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 6 months ago

Even if so, I would strongly presume JJ would want to move on, clear the slate, and look to rebuild his value in a much friendlier pitching environment, sans DH.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

I think the argument that he’s going to a pitchers park to rebuild his value is a little silly. Other than Ruben Amaro and Dayton Moore, if we see things making a guys numbers artificially better, so are all the GMs.

Trent Phloog
Guest
Trent Phloog
2 years 6 months ago

You just named two guys who would be willing to overpay for those artificially inflated numbers, and I think there may be a couple other GMs out there who are less savvy than your average FanGraphs reader. Seems like not a terrible bet for JJ.

Ian R.
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

General managers do have some understanding of park factors, but that’s almost beside the point. If JJ goes to Colorado or Texas or wherever and gets shelled, there goes his chance to rebuild his value. If he pitches well in San Diego, then yes, they’ll discount his numbers, but he’ll still have a good shot to prove he can hold up over a full season.

Put it another way, if I’m running a team in a neutral park and I see somebody have a good year with the Padres, I’m willing to give him a shot. If I see someone get smacked around in Colorado, I’m still going to be hesitant to give him anything more than a cheap one-year deal.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
2 years 6 months ago

I don’t get it. I expected Johnson to land with a team on the cusp of competing next year who want to roll the dice on a high-upside pitcher bouncing back. Or else sign with an up-and-comer on a longer deal that gets him more guaranteed money and allows a building team to secure what COULD BE a very good arm for a few years at a discounted price. And I see the Padres, whom I consider at least a couple of years away from competing for the NL West, sign him to a one-year deal.

Are the Padres closer to competing than I give them credit for? Isn’t it more likely that the Giants overtake them in the West and compete with the DBacks and Dodgers for the division? What’s the upside here for San Diego? That he has a bounce back season that the team squanders?

Tommy
Guest
Tommy
2 years 6 months ago

San Diego has a lot of upside, they have just been ravaged by injuries the last few years, especially starting pitching. The article that Jeff Zimmerman just put up shows just how much they have been effected by injuries of late. They have a good offense when healthy, and with Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner looking like they are starting to breakthrough, along with the return of Cory Luebke and now JJ, it looks like they could have a pretty great rotation.

Lorenzo
Guest
Lorenzo
2 years 6 months ago

JJ wasn’t going to get a multi-year offer, at least one for decent money. A one-year, make good contract in a pitcher’s ballpark is the best he could hope for. Another plus for San Diego is not only Petco but a highly regarded pitching coach in Darren Balsley, who would rather make minor adjustments than try to rebuild a pitcher’s delivery. The manager, Bud Black, is a former 120 game winner who spent nine years as pitching coach for the Angels when they had great pitching. That’s a great resource for a pitcher with messed up mechanics.

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