After a tumultuous 2013 season as the Orioles' closer, Jim Johnson is bidding Baltimore adieu.
The Orioles traded Johnson to the Oakland Athletics Dec. 2 for second baseman Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later.
The deal ends Johnson's O's career, which spanned parts of eight seasons. He pitched in 360 games for the Birds -- all but one in relief -- making his major league debut in 2006 after the Orioles drafted him during the fifth round of the 2001 amateur draft. Johnson pitched to a 3.11 ERA and recorded 122 saves.
Johnson, who became the Orioles' closer during the 2011 season, has led the American League in saves each of the past two years, notching 51 in 2012 and 50 in 2013. Beyond the saves totals, though, Johnson's two full seasons as Orioles closer had different results. In 2012, Johnson was nearly automatic in the ninth inning, blowing three saves all season and playing an integral role in the Birds' postseason run. But Johnson took a step backward in 2013, suffering a league-worst nine blown saves and frustrating many fans with his untimely ninth-inning meltdowns.
Johnson, who made $6.5 million in 2013, is eligible for arbitration and could receive a raise to more than $10 million in 2014. He will be a free agent following the 2014 season.
In Weeks, who will turn 27 in January, the Orioles have acquired a former first-round pick whom the A's selected 12th overall during the 2008 draft. Weeks made his MLB debut in 2011 and showed flashes of promise, posting a .761 OPS and 22 stolen bases during 97 games, but he fell on hard times the following season, plummeting to a .609 OPS during 118 games. Weeks essentially fell out of Oakland's plans, appearing in eight major league games in 2013 and spending the bulk of the season at Triple-A Sacramento.
Weeks has a career .777 OPS in the minors, with 20 home runs, 158 RBIs and 59 steals during 361 games. His career minor league OBP of .375 might have held some appeal to Orioles general manager Dan Duquette.
To me, this trade is essentially a salary dump. Weeks isn't a particularly valuable trade piece, and his future as a major league player is in question. Although he's expected to compete for the Orioles' vacant second base position, it seems unlikely that he'll develop into an above-average major league starter based on his career thus far.
The Orioles presumably made this deal to get Johnson's projected eight-figure salary off the books. As I've written previously, $10 million is an awful lot of money to pay for a closer, a role that could be filled by any number of cheaper pitchers. In September, I advocated that the Orioles non-tender Johnson to clear his excessive salary off the payroll and give the team more financial flexibility. By getting the Athletics to take Johnson and his full salary in this trade, the Orioles have essentially non-tendered Johnson, while at least getting something in return.
Still, it seems surprising that the Orioles couldn't acquire a more promising player for a pitcher who -- despite his 2013 struggles -- is a valuable reliever. It's conceivable that Johnson's salary scared off many teams; perhaps the O's could've gotten a better return if they had agreed to eat some of Johnson's salary in the deal.
Whatever the case, perhaps a fresh start in a new uniform will do Johnson -- and Weeks -- some good.
The Orioles made a few other moves Dec. 2, agreeing to one-year contracts with outfielders Nolan Reimold and Steve Pearce, avoiding arbitration with both. Reimold signed for $1.025 million and Pearce for $850,000. The O's also tendered contracts, as expected, to their other six arbitration-eligible players: first baseman Chris Davis; catcher Matt Wieters; and pitchers Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Bud Norris and Troy Patton.
The Orioles also removed right-handed pitcher Eddie Gamboa and outfielder Jason Pridie from the 40-man roster. With the removals of Johnson, Gamboa and Pridie and the addition of Weeks, the O's now have 37 players on their roster.