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Yankees free agent target: Josh Johnson

If he's right, Johnson offers front-line-starter upside. Unfortunately, that's a big "if."


Josh Johnson was a symbol of the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays. Thanks to that whopper of a trade with the Miami Marlins (which also included Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and others, plus the R.A. Dickey deal) last winter, Johnson and the Blue Jays were picked by most, if not all, of the expert baseball prognosticators to win the American League East with Johnson headlining the rotation. However, like the rest of his team, Johnson fell completely flat on his face, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. Had the 29-year-old had a big 2013, he would be starring at a big payday this winter. Instead, he'll be looking to resurface his value in 2014.

Johnson had a career-worst season in 2013, pitching to a 6.20 ERA and 4.62 FIP in 16 starts and 81.1 innings. His strikeout and walk rates (9.2 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9, respectively) were right around his career strikeout and walk rates of 8.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9, respectively. However, it was the long ball that plagued Johnson in a big way, as he posted home run rates of 1.6 HR/9 and 18.5% HR/FB. One would have to think that would regress back to his career HR/9 of 0.67 and 8.2% HR/FB, or at the very least come somewhat close.

When right, Johnson has the upside of a number two, or even a number one, starter. His best days were in Miami, obviously, specifically from 2009-2012, when he pitched to a 2.99 ERA and 2.94 FIP with pretty strong strikeout, walk, home run, and ground ball rates (8.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, 48% GB-rate, respectively). Add it all up, he had a 16.7 fWAR (11th-best in Major League Baseball) and a 20.0 bWAR in 101 starts and 644.1 innings pitched from 2009-2012. He was one of the best.

Sadly for Johnson, and for fans of him like myself, injuries have put a hampering on his career. His injury history, which you can read here if you scroll down towards the bottom, is kinda long, so I'll stick to just 2013. This past season, Johnson suffered through a triceps injury (34 missed games, 4/26-6/4), a blister problem (six missed games, 6/10-6/17), and a strain in his right forearm (46 missed games, 8/11-9/30) which ended his season in August. He also underwent elbow surgery to remove some bone spurs a month ago, and sandwiched between all of this was left knee tendinitis that evidently bothered him throughout the course of the year. Got all of that?

Even with his previous history in mind, I doubt the Blue Jays would extend Johnson the qualifying offer given his disastrous 2013. I'd suspect Johnson to sign on with someone for perhaps a one-year, low-base, incentive-laden, prove-yourself contract to try to resurface his value as a front-line starter for 2015. Johnson obviously won't be the team's number one pitching target this off-season, but even if the Yankees sign one of Masahiro Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda, or Matt Garza, the team will still have a couple of holes in the back-end of their rotation given the respective question marks for David Phelps and Michael Pineda. The guy offers oodles of upside, and if the team goes bargain hunting, he should be the guy they target. At the very least, signing a risky pitcher like Johnson would be a lot more exciting than signing someone like Paul Maholm or Chris Capuano to fill out the rotation.

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