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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.