The Case of the Proven Closer and the Moneyball A’s

Most rumors, of course, are nonsense, or at least things that won’t come true. We all know this to be the case, but a lot of the time, it’s difficult to tell from the outside what’s part of the signal and what’s part of the noise. Then there are the rumors that are just immediately, obviously ridiculous. This is the way I choose to feel about the chatter that the A’s have strong interest in Nelson Cruz — Cruz looks like the opposite of a free-agent bargain, he’s going to cost a draft pick, and the A’s have a full outfield. There’s no part of my rational mind that would link Nelson Cruz to Billy Beane‘s ballclub. Not one bit of it seems logical, so the rumor’s dismissed.

I had a similar reaction when I first saw word that the A’s were interested in trading for Jim Johnson. Johnson, like Cruz, has his uses, but he’s a Proven Closer due to make eight figures next season. Closers tend to be the most overpaid players on the market, so I didn’t see Beane falling for this, in reality. Then Beane actually traded for Johnson, giving the Orioles Jemile Weeks and a little bit else. The A’s deliberately acquired an eight-figure Proven Closer, and now the more I think about how it happened, the more I see how it makes some sense after all.

It’s easy to explain from the Orioles’ perspective. Weeks, probably, won’t turn into anything for them, given his statistical decline and increasing age. And Johnson, for years, has been a pretty good late-inning reliever. But the Orioles aren’t a team that can afford to spend $11 million on a closer, not when there are other holes around the roster of a potential contender. This is a salary dump for the purpose of gaining flexibility, and while the Orioles are said to be looking for a closer replacement, that guy shouldn’t cost as much as Johnson will. There’ll be other money to put in other places. The Orioles will spread that $11 million around, in the hopes of being the better team for it. It’s that simple.

The A’s, like the Orioles, operate beneath a tight budget ceiling, so in that sense they shouldn’t want to afford this either. In isolation, the A’s shouldn’t be the team paying $11 million to closer Jim Johnson. But to me, this comes down to two things. One is the principle that there’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract. And the other is that, while the Orioles have some needs to address, the A’s seem complete. After signing Scott Kazmir, all the A’s had left to do was address the bullpen.

When people complain about an overpayment, it’s because they think there were better ways to allocate the salary. I’m not going to pretend like the A’s roster is perfect, but when you look at it, it’s hard to find places where they could attempt an uncomplicated upgrade. The outfield is full, adequate, and fairly deep. The infield has too many players. There are multiple candidates to DH. The starting rotation is full and good and young, and the A’s are even in position now to shed Brett Anderson. The bullpen, also, is talented, even after losing Grant Balfour. All that wasn’t there was a clear closer candidate.

The A’s could try to do better at any and every position, but they’re already in good shape and attempted upgrades mean bidding wars. The A’s, of all teams, should understand the limited significance of actually having a designated veteran closer, but a good late-inning reliever is valuable no matter the role, and given that the A’s had the money left over to spend, they’re spending it. They’re spending it on an improvement, and they’re spending it easily, without having to get involved in any sweepstakes.

Johnson is well-known for his relatively unremarkable strikeout rates, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t effective. This is what he’s done the last four years, while generating a ton of grounders:

  • ERA-: 66
  • FIP-: 78
  • xFIP-: 84

For reference, that’s a little bit worse than Joe Nathan, but Johnson’s almost a decade younger, and Nathan is signing with the Tigers for multiple years. The A’s get to make the shortest of commitments on a guy who keeps the ball in the ballpark. In 2014, Johnson might even be the better reliever. The age is important.

What Johnson isn’t is obviously and demonstrably better than Balfour. But Balfour’s also older, and seeking multiple years as a free agent. Tellingly, the A’s declined to extend to Balfour a $14.1-million qualifying offer, and that was a month ago, so their limit for this kind of thing is somewhere between Johnson’s projected salary and the value of the QO. But over a month, things have also changed. The A’s got their Nick Punto, and they got their Scott Kazmir. And they don’t have to bid against anyone for Johnson’s services. They don’t even have to negotiate with Johnson on a multi-year deal. They can just pay him for the season and see what happens.

The reality now is that the A’s have a good new reliever for a year. They didn’t have to give up any long-term talent, and they didn’t have to make any commitments beyond 2014. This is why people say what they say about one-year contracts. Of course some go better than others, but there’s so little risk, and if the money’s there you might as well use it provided you use it to get a little bit better. The A’s look more or less finished to me, pending the Anderson move.

It’s not that it’s a transaction I love. There could be better ways for them to spend that money. Maybe they would’ve been better off holding a lot of it for midseason, should the team need to upgrade. At the end of the day, $11 million is a lot for a non-elite reliever. But this isn’t at all like the Nelson Cruz rumors. Johnson should help right away, and beyond that there’s no commitment. The A’s didn’t lose anything of value but money that would’ve otherwise been difficult to spend. And there’s something to be said for trading for a player you know you’ll have to pay, as opposed to bidding for one. With Johnson, there’s no suspense, no need for Plan B. It’s peace of mind for the winter, and peace of mind for the season. There are worse things.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


157 Responses to “The Case of the Proven Closer and the Moneyball A’s”

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  1. DrBGiantsfan says:

    I get it. When Brian Sabean overpays, it’s bad. When Billy Beane does it, it’s good. Great principle to remember for future analysis.

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    • Lens of Truth says:

      Think you need to remove that “r” from your username.

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    • I don’t know why I didn’t just write this

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    • Sixto Lezcano says:

      Big difference between overpaying for 5 years for Hunter Pence…or overpaying for Tim Lincecum where production isn’t even there to begin the argument…and overpaying for one year of a productive reliever. Of course, Giants fans aren’t really very good an understanding rational arguments (see their blind support of Barry Bonds).

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    • Petruchio says:

      Beane overpaying is unusual, and therefore worth more detailed scrutiny. Sabean overpaying is about as uninteresting as it is habitual.

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    • Rick says:

      Don’t see how trading for an arby player is anything like signing a free agent when you bid against only yourself; and then spend not just more $/year, but more years on said player as well.

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      • Reignman says:

        You can’t really compare Beane’s decision logic to Sabean’s. Beane operates from limited resources, kind of like a high tech startup. Sabean operates from a position of large resources, kind of like a cash-rich fortune 500 firm. Google acquired YouTube for $1B, which was an overpay, but nobody questions the decision. Startups who go on acquisition sprees usually fail.

        Ironically, the logic that Sullivan uses to justify Beane’s acquisition of Johnson is the logic Sabean (which really means the entire Giants brass since it’s not a one-man show over there) uses all the time to overpay for the likes of Pence and Lincecum. An overpay is an overpay- it’s just a difference of years and dollars.

        The Giants also make decisions based on marketing, which in turn increases the fan base which in turn increases the revenue available to acquire talent. Sometimes this backfires obviously, but the Giants having a large revenue base compared to the A’s is probably not coincidence (their stadiums are 20 min apart). Building a nice stadium, marketing Bonds, and keeping popular players around has allowed the Giants to overpay today and has paid dividends in other ways (e.g.- Hudson choosing the Giants over the A’s because of the fan base).

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    • Patrick says:

      Seems to me that Dave made his point clear about 1 year contracts. Overpaying for one year for a contending team does not hurt anyone.

      However, I see this acquisition differently. There is always a high profile team looking for a closer midseason. I will be very surprised if the A’s don’t get significant talent from the Yankees, Tigers, etc. before the trade deadline in exchange for Johnson.

      Heck, I would be mildly surprised if they even start the season with him. Beane has been known to acquire a player just so he can flip him in another deal for the player he actually wanted.

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    • channelclemente says:

      DrBG, never insult a local hero on his own turf. It’s a tribal thing.

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    • nickolai says:

      yes jeff clearly hates the giants. what an a$$hole.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      Go on…

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    • Bobby Melody says:

      Recent article in the NY Post ranks Sabean in 8th place behind:
      1. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay
      2. Billy Beane, Oakland
      3.Jon Daniels, Texas
      4. Dave Dombrowski, Detroit
      5. John Mozeliak, St. Louis
      6. Brian Cashman, Yankees
      7. Theo Epstein, Cubs

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  2. coldseat says:

    Sometimes you have to put the calculator and beans down and just think baseball. I’m sure most A’s fans are happy to have a good closer v. Keeping an extra $10 mil in Leo Wolfe’s pockets.

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    • Travis L says:

      This is a false dichotomy. As the author wrote, another way of looking at it is what else could they spend the $10 million on?

      Unless JJ gets traded again this year, I don’t see how this is the best use of Oakland’s limited salary money.

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    • Nathan says:

      You didn’t spell either of Lew Wolff’s names correctly.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      Lew Wolff could buy every FA on the market and A’s fans who hate him for wanting to move out of a stadium that spews raw sewerage would still complain.

      Grow up, Wolff rules and the A’s have the most wins in the last 2 seasons on his watch. You all were DEAD wrong about him. I always knew he was real when he told everyone where he sat in the bleachers, and none of you internet cowards would ever talk to him, but the ones who did paint a vastly different picture than the keyboard warriors. Wolff is who led this team to success, not anyone else, its his money, Beane does all the work but its all on Lew’s dime.

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      • Jono says:

        Lew doesn’t sit in the bleachers dude. He sits behind the plate. The reality of Lew Wolff is that he’s not that great and he’s not a supervillain. I really don’t like that he’s moving the A’s out of Oakland, but I also understand that he hasn’t had much of a partner to work with in city government. I don’t like his low budget, but I also know that he’s given Billy more latitude on that front than Billy has chosen to use.

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  3. triple_r says:

    When people complain about an overpayment, it’s because they think there were better ways to allocate the salary. I’m not going to pretend like the A’s roster is perfect, but when you look at it, it’s hard to find places where they could attempt an uncomplicated upgrade. The outfield is full, adequate, and fairly deep. The infield has too many players. There are multiple candidates to DH. The starting rotation is full and good and young…

    Weren’t people saying the same thing about the Nationals last year when they signed Soriano? Not to be that guy, but this could turn out the same way.

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    • Soriano cost the Nationals more money, a second year, and a high pick.

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      • Reg says:

        All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

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    • JayT says:

      Just because the Nationals had a disappointing season doesn’t mean that they had a bad process. Teams can make good moves and have bad outcomes, and vice versa.

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    • Nick O says:

      Nats signed him at 2-28 and lost a first rounder.

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    • David says:

      Soriano was signed for three years, and the article seems to be based on the idea that, while he’s overpaid, Jim Johnson isn’t so bad on just a one-year deal.

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    • Sixto Lezcano says:

      There is no way it could turn out the same way because the cost for Soriano was vastly higher with a second year and a FIRST ROUND draft pick.

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    • triple_r says:

      Regardless, as an Orioles fan, I’m thrilled. The money can now go to a minor upgrade for the rotation–Feldman, Floyd, Hernandez, etc.–which will probably be worth 2+ wins, more than the 1 win maximum for JJ. Moreover, while Weeks will most likely provide replacement-level play, that’s probably better than they would’ve gotten anyway from Flaherty, Schoop, and whatever other scrub they sign. I still don’t get this trade from the Athletics’ perspective, but quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.

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      • Bill says:

        I liked JJ, but the worst part of the MacPhail era was the continual belief that closers were predictable. Between Greggles, Gonzales, and what ever other names I’m currently repressing I’m all for dumping our closer when he has some value. JJ might be great next year or he might be terrible. I think there’s just as good a chance that Hunter or Norris or some random guy who finds magic performs comparably for less money.

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  4. PWR says:

    that $10mm savings wouldnt just disappear. still seems like they could have spent it smarter whether that’s at trade deadline acquiring a player or next season’s payroll, etc.

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    • Well, year to year, budgets don’t work that way, and maybe the A’s intend to build the best roster they can now rather than get involved in the hypothetical midseason market when upgrades can be expensive and make limited impacts. I’ll never love a team for spending this money on a closer like Johnson, but I at least see why it’s happening in this instance with this team.

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      • mr33 says:

        I get that businesses have annual budgets, but why does a team with a majority owner (maybe I’m wrong) and the all-powerful executive have to play by everybody else’s conventions? Aren’t foresight and creative thinking the hallmarks of successful businesses?

        I just can’t concede there is no opportunity cost to this move.

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        • wally says:

          Then what is the opportunity cost? Who is this player that should be signed, even if its in 2015….?

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        • mr33 says:

          Maybe its somebody they could extend at below market rates or lawyers that can get them to San Jose. Who knows? But surely it exists.

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        • wally says:

          Of course its always something, but is it better than what they got?

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      • Natman says:

        @JeffSullivan said, “I’ll never love a team for spending this money on a closer like Johnson, but I at least see why it’s happening in this instance with this team.” That comment belies the complaints above: This move is stupid, unless its Beane. But since Beane did it, it makes logical sense. I hate to be that guy but if Beane is so damn smart (saintly around here), where is the October hardware? That’s not to say that he’s a terrible GM (clearly he’s not), but his moves can be panned by you for the same reasons you go after Moore, or Sabean, or whoever the flavor of the month kicked on dog is.

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        • cass says:

          “I hate to be that guy”

          Obviously, you don’t. If you really hated to be that guy, you wouldn’t have said such a thing. Seems pretty clear you enjoy being that guy.

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        • AK7007 says:

          First, that’s not at all what’s being said. Instead, what is being said is that this kind of move can be OK for a team that has nothing else to spend their money on in order to improve. That we can understand why they do it, not that we agree. The actual body occupying the GM chair doesn’t matter, it’s the team context that matters.

          If Dayton Moore had a complete team and an extra $10 mil available to payroll, then acquired an expensive closer for a single year, similar comments would be made. Problem is, whenever Moore overpays, there are better ways to allocate that money, and it is hard to follow the logic that led to the unusual asset allocation. (assuming that free agents are willing to go KC, which might not always be true)

          Second, the many people have really stopped piling on Sabean, instead usually acknowledging that he has unique circumstances that lead to him spending money sub-optimally. Things have worked out recently for them, and it has been noticed.

          Third, “October Hardware?” I don’t know what world you are observing, but the one we live in has this thing called the regular season where you prove you are one of the best teams in order to get into a total lottery known as the postseason. I’ll rephrase: Step one, prove you have a good team. Step two, let the luck dragons play. The GM’s job is to do well on step one. If you know of somebody/thing/whatever that can sway the luck dragons, you may have a future job in a MLB front office! Otherwise, stop judging GMs based on their postseason record.

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        • Forrest Gumption says:

          The playoffs are a certified crapshoot, my friend. The A’s have the most regular season wins over the last 2 seasons in all of baseball, and that’s all Beane can do.

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        • Park Chan Ho's Beard says:

          You can’t compare this to Moore’s or Sabean’s moves because those moves are completely different. They’re either for longer term deals, or were giving up significant pieces of your farm system. Additionally, the teams are all in different positions going into the 2014 season. The A’s have dominated for the past season and a half, while the Giants and Royals were both varying degrees of not good this past season. This is an overpay for a one year deal from a team that’s very good and looks very complete and deep. It’s literally the least damaging overpay that can be done for a position (the bullpen that is, not just the closer) that can always use more depth. And there are other angles to look at this from that others have mentioned in the comments, like flipping him for significant talent either before or mid season. For all of those reasons, not just because it’s Billy Beane, is why the move is less bad (and in my opinion not really that bad at all) than the moves of Sabean/Moore. And I’m not even going to address your retarded “October Hardware” comment.

          TL;DR Read the effin’ article, idiot!

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    • CJ says:

      Are you sure it wouldn’t have disappeared? Say they wait until mid season when they have a slim lead for 1st in their division and Beane reminds Wolfe of that $10 million he didn’t spend in the off-season and how he wants it now. Wolfe sees his team is in 1st and would rather keep that $10 million in his pocket for walking around money and tells Beane they are doing good enough and don’t need to spend it. You’ve now lost that opportunity. Beane is the GM, not the owner. He doesn’t have the PIN to the bank account. When he is told he has money to spend, from a tight wallet owner on top of that, he spends it. And he spends it on the best he can do at that time. If you always wait for later, it never comes.

      Also, you mention next season’s payroll. That is also flawed. First, in my above comment. Second, in that Johnson is only around for 1 year so that money will be available next year again. And third, it’s a lot tougher for an owner to drop payroll than to leave it where it is. Beane now has that much money on the books and can fight for it again next year to keep it.

      Outside of correcting your flawed arguments, I really don’t agree with giving $10 million to Jim Johnson, but Billy Beane, along with all GMs, are much smarter men than me so we’ll see how it turns out.

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      • PWR says:

        i just can’t agree. maybe the money won’t be there because owner pulls back but if you trust your owner and budgets, you have 10mm more in cash the following year. thats the way it should work. and that money could be spent better than on a closer

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        • AK7007 says:

          “Way it should work” and reality are hugely out of synch from time to time. This is one of those cases. I’m sorry that you had to find out that logic and reason don’t always apply from the comments section of an article.

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      • Forrest Gumption says:

        The A’s absolutely do not have a “tight wallet owner”. Show me where he hasn’t spent that would have been worth it.

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        • AK7007 says:

          Name a top tier free agent contract that worked out. Right there is a player that the A’s were ineligible to pursue because they have a low payroll. They have a low payroll imposed by ownership. You can quibble about ownership’s motivations to have low payrolls each season. (attendance, the Coliseum, etc)

          One of the motivations appears to be that the primary owner would like to take home a profit each year rather than treat the team as a rich person’s toy. Hence the “tight wallet” remark. Fans are annoyed by this, because fan spending on the team is most definitely a luxury, while the team owner does not share their enthusiasm or treat the team as a luxury. Neither party is right or wrong, fan emotions are not something you can ascribe significant thought or reason to -they just are. (and various owners treat their teams either as businesses, toys, or something in between)

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        • AK7007 says:

          Forbes (could be wrong, but clearly influences fan perception) have the A’s at 5th in operating income ($27.5 million) – money that could be spent on players. Compare that to a team like the Tigers who from 2009-2011 had operating incomes between $-26-29million. (and are still only neutral today)

          Comparison paints a picture of a owner in Detroit who is willing to spend money and regards his team as a luxury toy, maybe not even profiting off the appreciation of the franchise itself, while in Oakland profits are being had by a team with a low payroll. It’s a perception, (real or not) and while Wolff is allowed to run a business – it doesn’t mean we have to celebrate low payrolls along with his profits. The A’s win in spite of, not because of their low payrolls. And wins are what get celebrated by fans.

          http://www.forbes.com/mlb-valuations/list/

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        • Lew Wolff says:

          I do not disagree with the theory–but Forbes is not a reliable source for MLB financial data.

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  5. Rallyk says:

    Johnson doesn’t appear to be a great fit. He gets the ground balls, but the O’s infield defense is superior to the A’s infield defense. You would think the A’s would target a High K%/Flyball closer.

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  6. Brandon Firstname says:

    It’s a definite overpay from a $/WAR perspective, but the flexibility and low-risk it gives them is nice. It’s definitely not a great deal, though it’s not the worst either considering all the factors and a likely inability to sign a similar guy on a one-year deal in free agency.

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    • Andrew says:

      Is it really an overpay if it’s house money and there’s no better way to spend it though?

      OK a Fister trade for nobodies would have been a better way to spend it. I don’t think the Tigers would have been as gracious when dealing with a playoff rival though.

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      • AK7007 says:

        To be fair, you could play that game with almost every player traded from this point forward (or backward) in the offseason. “You could have gotten Fister for nobody, so why did you trade for that other guy instead?”

        Something tells me that the Tigers might be valuing the Nationals package differently from the rest of the world. Otherwise every team that could afford the salary would have made that trade.

        “Why did the Giants sign Hudson instead of trading for Fister?”
        “Why did the Royals sign Vargas instead of trading for Fister?”
        Ad nauseam

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        • Andrew says:

          My main point though is that it isn’t exactly easy to find quality players at only $10M a year.

          A’s have been working with that kind of payroll flexibility since 2008, it just isn’t that often that free agents can be had in that price range that are an upgrade over in-house options.

          It’s particularly a problem considering hitters have shown time and again that they’re willing to take less money to not come to Oakland.

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  7. TheGrandslamwich says:

    It does seem like the A’s could have found a better deal out there than paying Johnson eight figures to close, especially when Cook looks like he’s ready for the role.

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    • coldseat says:

      This sounds like what I read about the Tigers last off season. I get that over large sample analysis that closers are over valued, but somehow having a good one seems to always play big in the playoffs….it’s hard to just sit back and wish your way into being able to luck into a Rosenthal or Koji – the Tigers did that and got burned. It’s a luxury but not irrational.

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  8. rustydude says:

    Giving credit where it’s due… this is pretty good analysis, Jeff.

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  9. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Is the A’s rotation really set? Brett Anderson only pitches about 50 innings a year and they did not have a single starter who got 2.0 WAR, though Straily got to 1.9 and Sonny would have in a full year. Their pitchers have not shown to go large amounts of innings a year: Kazmir has hit 200 IP once and 180+ twice, the last time being back in 2007. Sonny has never hit 150 IP in any level of baseball (Highest: 148 IP), I can’t imagine they want him to go a full 200 next year. Parker has consistantly been pretty high, but his FIP/xFIP suggest regression and his K% and GB% were down. Griffin went 200 IP, but was only worth 1.4 WAR: A lot of his value depends on if you think his BABIP suppression and LOB% are real. Milone and Straily look to be the best, but Milone’s peripherals didn’t match up with his K% and he has been pretty much average this year. Straily looks legit if he can go 200 next year.

    My point being that the A’s rotation, while young and with upside, also has a lot of question marks. 11 mil could get a pretty good starter or two depth starters. I, for one, would have much rather had Phil Hughes on something like a 3 year, 27 mil (Assuming they had to beat 24 mil) deal in Oakland’s pitching enviroment, who can play starter depth and be a reliever in the meantime, or gotten Josh Johnson on that sweet one year deal? I feel that the rotation would allow better starting cash allocation.

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    • Shauntell says:

      As you said, they do have a lot of young guys. Assuming Anderson’s gone, that leaves them with Straily, Griffin, Gray, Parker, Milone & Kazmir. If you’re the A’s you want to give your young starters playing time, so getting as you said Phil Hughes would mean leaving 2 of the aforementioned in the minors which isn’t good for their development or their trade value.
      Yes there are question marks, but the A’s have to find out what they’ve got on their hands, so you have to let the young ones play. Plus they’ve started their service clock on all of these guys except maybe Gray, so they would be losing value leaving one or two of these guys in the minors.
      Btw, I don’t think Hughes would want to be a reliever, it’s just not in his own interest.

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    • Hank says:

      I think the team/GM involved is coloring the analysis a bit and folks look for the reason why the move might be good (or not bad) as opposed to just analyzing it.

      Between the 11mil per to Kazmir and the ~11mil to Johnson, I think they could have gotten either more starter depth or more quality (Bartolo?)

      This seems like an odd use of money for a team on a budget.

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      • While, again, I don’t disagree that this move is questionable, I think some people are undervaluing the team-friendliness of short contracts, and remember that a win is worth more for a team like the A’s in position to contend. Johnson unquestionably makes the A’s better, in a way that isn’t all that cheap to acquire. At worst, it’s an overpay by a few million, with no long-term consequences.

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        • GoodasGoldy says:

          I don’t see it as an overpay. The A’s needed a closer and they got a very good one on a one year deal and didn’t give up anything to boot (unless you have a calculator with enough digits after the decimal to get to see Weeks value).

          The only free agent closers who would take a one year deal would be high risk types who need a year to prove their healthy (Bailey, Hanrahan, Madson, etal). Any remaining FA closers with a track record to match Johnson’s are going to get multi-year deals for about the same dough or more.

          Outside of 2 weeks in May when Johnson got out of sync he was the same guy as he was in 2012. He’ll probably save 50 out of 55 for the A’s next year and everyone will say, “yeah but he’s not a prototypical closer”.

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    • Rick says:

      “Sonny has never hit 150 IP in any level of baseball (Highest: 148 IP)”
      Not sure where you get this info, b/c Gray pitched 168 innings at the AA level – but who cares about that, it’s stupid irrelevant to even mention. Important to mention would be that Gray pitched 182.1 inning last year.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      Phil Hughes is absolutely, positively, terrible. He would cost the A’s a playoff spot had he been in the rotation. Kazmir is so much better than him that he’s still not very good, but okay as a 5th starter.

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  10. Elbo says:

    “The A’s look more or less finished to me, pending the Anderson move.”

    You’ve been proven wrong before, but rarely so quickly.

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  11. sturock says:

    Maybe the A’s just looked around their roster and saw Johnson as a better alternative to what they had. You need to see how their season plays out before you determine if it’s a good or bad move. And Billy Beane is entitled to change his tune on how he pays his closers from one year to the next. Meanwhile, he gave up someone the team is going to use for someone who’s had a pretty decent track record. If looked at in a vaccuum, sure, maybe it’s an overpay. But aren’t all the teams receiving more TV money? And don’t they have fewer places to put it under the new CBA?

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  12. Spit Ball says:

    The Athletics are also loaded with young pitching right now. Should a Ryan Cook or someone else become “closer material,” they could end up flipping Johnson at the deadline to a team looking for a bullpen arm. It does not necessarily scream of Moneyball efficiency to me but I understand it.

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  13. JasonJ says:

    I guess the A’s get the benefit of the doubt due to their track record but I was expecting an “A’s trade for $11 M closer, wait…what?!” post. If you’ve got $11 M to spend why not try to upgrade a more important position via a trade?

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    • Because with their roster that would be hard

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      • George says:

        I remember a post a few months ago by someone at Fangraphs about how the A’s have built a successful team without stars but with a collection of good players and no major weaknesses. While this makes sense since it’s a better use of monetary resources, it also makes upgrading the team so much more difficult.

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        • wally says:

          That’s a very good point, but at most positions they are priced out of a meaningful upgrade anyway. They just can’t afford to go from a ~3 WAR player, like say Reddick, to 4+ WAR player like Ellsbury.

          Its a lot easier to replace the worst guy in your bullpen, however.

          As an A’s fan I love this deal. And I think the two moves they made yesterday will add a few wins to the club. What they have especially done is improve the run prevention at the end of the game and to a lesser degree, they got a guy that could come in a run the bases when say Moss leads off the 9th walk while tied or down by one. These are the kinds of moves that might only add 1-2 WAR on paper, but with some luck could mean several more real wins above that.

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    • Gabriel says:

      Is that not what this post was? The author says it seems weird and then tries to answer the “What?” question.

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      • Gabriel says:

        D’oh — tried to block quote the grandfather post and ended up block quoting my own. Anyway, I think Jeff Sullivan’s post is exactly what you were looking for, though you may disagree with his analysis.

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        • JasonJ says:

          You may be right but I guess I expected this move to get a little more criticism because it’s pretty bizarre for the A’s. I guess Jeff threw me a bit of a curveball is all.

          I also agree that their roster makes upgrading other positions harder but I feel like if anyone could make it work it’s Billy Beane. However, they just made another trade so who knows where this will all end up when the dust settles.

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        • Worm Turner says:

          JJ could easily end up on another roster by April.

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  14. Mike D says:

    Still a head-scratcher to me. Why not use Cook and Doolittle as co-closers?

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  15. Shauntell says:

    The A’s don’t have any starters that often go 7+ innings, so adding another good reliever makes sense.

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  16. Dave in GB says:

    Does anyone think the A’s might try to make Johnson a starter? He throws 4 pitches and with that potential salary, it’s just a thought.

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  17. fromthemachine says:

    They’re not going to pay him $10 million. They’re going to pay him $5 million and flip him for whatever’s missing late in the season.

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    • Youppi! says:

      precisely what i see happening. that is textbook Beane. fluff up his value heading into July and get a few prospects for a rental that someone will overpay for and that no longer will have a draft pick compensation issue at the season’s end.

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  18. KCDaveInLA says:

    Now signing Nelson Cruz to the multi-year deal? That would mean that Beane has lost his marbles. But a 1-year “rebuild-your-value” deal? Maybe not so bad.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      If Cruz wanted to rebuild his value for a year, I doubt he’d go to Oakland. He really has one good skill – power – and Oakland isn’t the best place for that.

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  19. Los says:

    I think they might be doing what the rays and jays used to do with bullpen arms, use them to stockpile picks. They are going to turn a good year of JJ into a QO and let him walk as a free agent and collect the pick.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      If he accepts the QO, then they’d be paying about $25MM for 2 years of a closer. I think it’s less than 50/50 that they’d extend that offer.

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    • BJsworld says:

      Yeah – He was a questionable tender at $10M. Unless he pitches lights out baseball it’s pretty hard to imagine him being worth $14M.

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  20. DBaGiantsFan says:

    Two rings > zero rings

    -32 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • coldseat says:

      People don’t care about rings here, we’re too smart for that. Fan Attendence also means little. Getting things cheap is what flies. Only wall street types need spply.

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      • Natman says:

        Yeah who cares about the results when you theoretically won the stat sheet? Geesh! When you don’t care about what actually happens and only care about what you predict will happen, there will be something significantly wrong about your analysis.

        -8 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Park Chan Ho's Beard says:

          If you understood anything about Fangraphs and the nature of the MLB postseason, you would realize this is a really dumb comment. Probably dumber than DBGiantsFan’s comment, or at least equally dumb.

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    • Bip says:

      And how do you get rings? Proven Closers!

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      Its 4 rings, you numbskull.

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      • Park Chan Ho's Beard says:

        I think he’s referring to the Giants under Sabean vs. the A’s under Beane

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        • Every A's Fan Knows says:

          Giants fans want to troll as much as possible before their team becomes irrelevant again for a few decades (enjoy looking up at the Dodgers in the standings!). Just ignore them and respond to the intelligent posts…

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  21. Rod says:

    Different price level but the A’s did this 3 straight years from 2001 to 2003 in getting proven closers for 1 year before they were free agents with Isringhausen, Koch, and Foulke.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      They traded for Isringhausen in 1999 and converted him to a closer. He pitched 2 1/2 years for them, before departing.

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    • A's Fan says:

      This is a good point though; they traded for Koch and Foulke, who had already closed effectively for other teams. So it’s not totally out of the blue for Beane.

      Also, not sure if anyone’s mentioned this, but the A’s beat writers talked about the extra $25 mil. in TV money going to Johnson and Kazmir since they had payroll flexibility anyway and no other major needs.

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  22. mr33 says:

    How does this fit in with the A’s philosophy of spending all their money on inconsistent/injury prone guys with upside? Isn’t Johnson the complete opposite of that?

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    • BJsworld says:

      I think it shows that Beane will do whatever he wants whenever he wants. While there are general patterns that he seems to follow nothing is written in stone.

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  23. Shankbone says:

    With Trader Billy I would be shocked if Johnson makes it through the year in Yellow and Green and mildly surprised if he makes it to Spring Training.

    Sometimes its good to switch up the strategy though, Beane isn’t known for picking HS kids in the draft. Hello Addison Russell. That is looking good. Paying for a year (ahem) of proven closer isn’t that big a deal with the new money flowing. I would note that few O’s fans are crying about losing Johnson, he didn’t do them any favors in the post season, something that Beane likes to dismiss as a total crapshoot. There are studies and results on the field that suggest otherwise.

    I saw a comment up above about targeting the arb eligible guy in his last year for the QO draft pick. I doubt it for a couple of reasons: it will be over 14MM next year, and they can’t risk him saying yes, he most likely won’t be an A by that time, and teams aren’t nearly as interested in proven closers anymore. But as the talk went to old Brian Sabean and his methods, I’d note that Sabean killed it targeting two arb eligible for the last time OFs on the cheap, got 4 WAR seasons from both for less than 10MM bucks (at least a 30MM “win” on his book) and didn’t get any credit in these parts (Melky/Pagan). Giants fans were licking their chops at draft pick/QO games… it didn’t work out that way.

    As Beane trolls around with Anderson, some team might bring up Johnson, and that’ll be that. Trader Billy!

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      How many wins has your team had the last 2 years? Trader Billy does what works.

      Keeping bad players around so the fans are appeased are what loser teams do, like the Giants, who as of 2013 are a loser team (Hey, if their fans can act like MLB started in 2010, then A’s fans can pretend it started in 2013, right? Just kidding, one A’s fan knows more about baseball than every Giants fan put together).

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      • Shankbone says:

        13 when it counted. Including 4 over the same Detroit Tigers the A’s have their 4 from. Over 2 years. Because Beane repeatedly does not address flaws with his teams. In the Moneyball years it was all about undervaluing fielding and fundamentals This current iteration is his bullpen. Those are both important aspects of the playoffs. Which are a big part of winning. Which is what the point is in this unfair sport. The best move the A’s have done is bring back Grady Fuson, the real architect of the Moneyball success, and he’s doing a sweet job once again. I’m no A’s hater, I have a ton of family and friends who go that route. But Billy Beane is overrated at times, and his mistakes are glossed over by adoring sabers.

        Maybe these moves with the pen will turn out OK. He definitely got a better defensive set up to start the year.

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  24. wsmith says:

    I find this an Un Beane- like move. He usually develops closers from the depths of the A’s bullpen. Think Bailey and Balfour. Maybe others before them?
    Seems to have no confidence in Cook (14svs in 2012) or Doolittle to close the deal. If the A’s are not in the running in early August, bye bye Mr. Johnson

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    • Saves? Really? says:

      Beane is looking at his payroll over the next several years and knows the arb escalation attached to “proven closers”. He avoids steeper salary escalation for Cook and/or Doolittle over the next 4 years by spending more than seems reasonable up front on Johnson. And as others have said, if Johnson is healthy and collecting his saves as expected, he flips him at the deadline for cost-controlled talent. The reason Beane moves – even one like this that seems strange on its face – don’t get panned is because the guy is really smart.

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      • murphym45 says:

        Think this is a huge point that shouldn’t be overlooked. They have two excellent relievers who could be closers, but keeping a guy like Doolittle out of the 9th for one year could save millions in arbitration for each of the next 3 years.

        Guys like Frieri and Cishek are first time arbitration eligible this year after having one season as full-time closer, and are projected to make $3.4M and $3.2M (from MLB Trade Rumors). Meanwhile, a guy like Tazawa is only projected for $1.1M, and Jonny Venters got $1.6M last year after coming off a 3 year stretch as one of the best set-up men in baseball.

        If you calculate saving somewhere around $2M/year for each of the next three years for whichever of Cook/Doolittle would have become the closer, then the effective cost for Johnson is only around $5M, which is a fair price since he’s been worth around 1 win each of the past three years.

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    • Dustin says:

      > He usually develops closers from the depths of the A’s bullpen. Think Bailey and Balfour.

      Balfour was a free-agent signing, preceded by Brian Fuentes, another free agent signing (Cook got a brief look in there while Balfour was out). Bailey was the closer after taking the job from Huston Street, who was home-grown. Brad Zeigler, a minor-league free-agent signing filled in from time to time, as did Alan Embree, another free-agent, and he was preceded by Octavio Dotel, a trade pickup. This is ten years of closers, which I think is a sufficient sample to say that the facts don’t support your argument.

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  25. Shankbone says:

    One more thing on Trader Billy – He already has Andre Ethier and Carlos Gonzo on his jacket. Will Michael Choice make it a trifecta?

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  26. bjoak says:

    “There are multiple candidates to DH.”

    I can’t even imagine who you were thinking of when you wrote this. It seems like a convenient way to overlook the necessity of another outfielder. Seth Smith? Draic Barton? Really?

    Now with Gentry, it’s a bit of a head scratcher. They almost *needed* a questionale defense guy to create value at DH. It’s hard to imaginge them sitting or DHing Gentry. Maybe they’re still unsold on Cespedes’ defense and it’s an even more convincing argument for him to accept his role as DH and take a seat.

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  27. DBaGiantsFan says:

    And wasn’t Jamal Weeks supposed to be the next great thing at 2B?

    Moneyball isn’t supposed to be about selling low now, isn’t it?

    -19 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • TheGrandslamwich says:

      Prospects flame out all the time. There is no need to be a d-bag purely for the sake of being a d-bag.

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    • Bip says:

      Is there some sort of bay-area jealousy going on here that I don’t understand?

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      • cass says:

        DBaGiantsFan is a troll. Been posting here for a couple weeks. His only intent is to get people angry. I’m not sure he’s even a Giants fan. Probably someone who can’t get attention any other way than posting troll comments. The down votes and replies to his posts show that someone is paying attention to him. That’s the reason he posts. I worry there’s some awful stuff going on in his life that’s spur this, actually. :/

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  28. Switters says:

    Is it possible Billy’s A’s are going to use Johnson not as a closer but as some kinda double play inducing machine when there’s a high leverage inherited runner scenario? Maybe GDIP-type relievers (used in this way) are something he thinks are being undervalued?

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  29. Evan says:

    Most seem to be missing the point of the article. Its not viewing JJ in a vacuum as a $11mm “proven closer”. Its about resource allocation. Yes you can ascribe a $ value to a win, but its not like there is some online Bitcoin-esque market you can buy them on. Don’t forget that this is a one year deal too! Soriano, naathan, balfour, none of those multi-year deals are even close comps to this.

    JJ is a total A’s player in that he’s someone who they can use creatively and plays well into their defense and ballpark. Neither cook nor doolittle really grabbed the reigns of late inning duty when the limited opportunities came along unlike someone like Trevor R (cook has been moved off it multiple times) while JJ has been pitching high leverage inning with success in the toughest division in baseball. Cost is neglible because weeks is AAAA at best. Tough to see how they could have deployed $11m over 1 year any better than this given Punto and Kazmir already being brought into the fold. The A’s roster is never “done”, but right now they’ve certainly filled the holes they could in a quick and efficient manner.

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  30. Leo says:

    Good article, but its thesis seems to be in tension with linear $/WAR reasoning. 2+2=4 only if there is no premium for limited roster spots/playing time. This article argues that Oakland could justify a premium based on roster and playing time limitation.

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  31. jdbolick says:

    I get the Oakland argument in the sense that good free agents don’t sign one year deals and you aren’t going to get any great hitters or starting pitchers with one season remaining for just Weeks. Whether or not Jim Johnson is worth $10+ million for a season is rather beside the point if they can’t go out and easily allocate those resources on someone who might produce more value.

    I’m more interested in Baltimore’s side. People are writing this off as a salary dump, but isn’t that based on just one horrendous 2012? I don’t think that should be any more conclusive than Weeks’ unrealistically good performance in 2011. If Jemile bats ~.270 then his OBP should be around .360 and you have a legitimate leadoff hitter at second base. That has value to me as an Orioles fan, and that wouldn’t appear to be an unlikely scenario. A middle infielder with speed who takes lots of walks? Sign me up.

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    • Dustin says:

      Jemile seems to have trouble making his plate approach work in the majors. He is a patient, low-power hitter who was successful in the minors, but MLB pitchers don’t seem to mind going after him. His defense at 2nd is pretty poor as well.

      I hope he turns it around and has a great career in Baltimore, but he seems to be going in the wrong direction.

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      • jdbolick says:

        He hit .303 over 437 major league PAs in 2011, so it’s not fair to suggest that his approach doesn’t work in the majors. While no one expects him to reach that level again, it did happen and thus it’s odd to discard that but hold up his 2012 as definitive.

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  32. Cidron says:

    My big question is.. given that the market for closers is pretty well stocked, why this particular closer, and this money? One can find a cheaper closer who can do the job pretty good as well. Doesn’t quite make sense to me coming from a money conscious and savvy club like the A’s.

    The list of names was (some very recently signed)…. Joe Nathan, Brian Wilson, Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Joel Hanrahan, Kevin Gregg, Chris Perez, Rafael Betancourt, Joaquin Benoit, Edward Mujica, David Aardsma, Carlos Marmol, Jesse Crain, Frank Francisco, Ryan Madson, Matt Thornton, Manny Parra, Jose Veras, LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Lyon, Jose Valverde, Brett Myers, Joba Chamberlain.

    There are others. But the point is, that there are many many closers, relievers who have closed for stretches, etc that can come cheaper, and would provide a quality option in that role. Yes, some have huge question marks, but alot are steady and unspectacular.

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    • Forrest Gumption says:

      The A’s aren’t as money conscious as you think.

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    • BJsworld says:

      Any player as good as Johnson will require more than one year. Any player signed for one year is either unreliable and/or on the wrong side of 35.

      The money is an issue but the bigger issue was years. That’s why this grades out as a reasonable move. Also, Johnson has the potential to carry much more trade value than any guy you listed. Personally, I think Beane made this move with the intent to flip Johnson during the season. If he is thinking along that line then Johnson was by far the best move he could have made.

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    • Troy says:

      They were probably unwilling to give up much more than Jemile Weeks

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  33. Forrest Gumption says:

    Johnson-Cook-Doolittle-Gregerson-Otero-Blevins

    Best pen in the game? Best pen in the game. Every single one of those guys could close.

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  34. Johnson for 1/11 plus losing Weeks- who might never amount to anything but could maybe provide some value.
    Would you really prefer this deal to getting Joe Smith 3/15.75, Javier Lopez 3/13 or LaTroy Hawkins 1/2.5.
    Frankly this looks a win for Baltimore. I wonder if Baltimore can find something to spend 11 million on rather than one-year of a non-elite closer.

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  35. libradawg says:

    You know a piece I’d totally love to see? One that analyzes in detail how many closers were:

    A- Brought through their system as closers
    B- Named closer out of ST before promptly coughing the gig up
    C- Lowly middle relievers that became dominant closers by the end of the year

    I always hated the idea of paying for closers, as this site has eloquently discussed before. I still don’t think people quite grasp how often Brian Wilson is doing commercials as a household name one month only to relinquish it to 2 separate middle relievers who both equaled or bettered his performance.

    How many times has Koji Uehara been vying for the job in ST? For how many teams did he do this for before finally winning a title after securing his first full time gig. And what about the Braves? Are they doing themselves a disservice by keeping Johnny Venters instead of trading him as a high 90’s pure strikeout guy?

    Seriously, do a piece detailing the thin line between Stud Closer and Lowly Reliever. I would totally read the crap out of that article.

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  36. Pitcha says:

    I’ll admit, I fell asleep in the middle of Moneyball and woke up during the credits, but didn’t Billy Beans move to the Red Sox and win two World Series titles?

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  37. Ray Cleverly says:

    So much for the wishful thinking here. Johnson looks like an albatross.

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