It’s been a whole five days since Alex Anthopoulos has done any major transactions, which is odd after that whirlwind week of Blue Jays moves. Ever since his Monday morning press conference where he announced the finalization of the big Blue Jays – Marlins trade, the Melky Cabrera free agent signing (for 2 years/$16M) and the shocking reveal of re-hiring John Gibbons as manager, there’s been no major transactions to speak of. With the exception of some minor league free agents signings, Jays fans have been left pondering what are the next moves coming from their organization, and what to do with their current roster. Arguably, the biggest point of difference is what to do with Josh Johnson and his future with the Toronto Blue Jays.
If you were unaware, Josh Johnson’s contract ends in 2013 after getting paid $13.75M for the year with the Blue Jays. He will be going into the 2014 season with roughly 7+ years of MLB service as a top tier pitcher. It’s hard to tell where exactly his value will stay going forward, especially with a declining-in-speed fastball and without having thrown a full season in the very talented AL East. There’s a precedent of top tier pitching in the past being awarded overvalued extensions and free agent contracts (Barry Zito, Mike Hampton , John Lackey and A.J. Burnett come to mind), as well as players who do live up to their value, but have very expensive contracts as well (like Jered Weaver, Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia and possibly Cliff Lee). It’s a gamble that Alex Anthopoulos is familiar with, since he signed Jose Bautista to a 5 year/$65M contract after one year of amazing success that may have pointed to being an outlier season. It worked on that deal, but he might not strike gold twice.
Here are the pros and cons to what AA can do with JJ:
1) Sign Josh Johnson To An Extension Before The 2013 Regular Season Begins
+Alex Anthopoulos he may be able to get Johnson a cheaper contract than his future value will be by showing the initiative now as a sign of good faith
+Signing a multi-year extension would solidify 4 Starting Rotation pitchers for the Blue Jays until at least 2015
-Without knowing how Johnson performs in the AL East he could be signed to a huge contract that he’ll never be able to perform up to, thus removing the financial ability to make future big free agent/trade moves
-His injury past might catch up with him, and we’ll be stuck either with lengthy times on the DL or a player that could come back from injury to lose his velocity, then losing ability to pitch as well as past performance, no matter what price of contract
2) Wait Until The Middle Of The 2013 Regular Season To Decide
+A few months pitching in the AL East will make it more apparent how Johnson will pitch in the division in the long term, thus establishing fair value
+If he pitches horrendously, you’re not roped in on a long term contract and can let him walk at the end of the season
+If Anthopoulos is confident in bringing in a different pitcher to the rotation (injured player/prospect), he can trade Johnson before the trade deadline and get valuable assets in return
-He could perform to AL Cy Young/MVP level quality pitching during his 2013 season, resulting in having to offer him a lot more money than if he signed an extension in the offseason
-He may perform well in the first half of the season, be awarded the contract, then either get “found out” by AL East hitters or sustain career-altering injuries after the signing
3) Wait Until The 2013 Offseason To Offer Josh Johnson A Contract
+If he showed brilliant promise in 2013 but was sidelined for a great deal of time, a qualifying offer valued around $13-15M might allow him to perform well for the Jays and re-establish free agent value
+Depending on the success of the 2013 Blue Jays season (including a possible playoff berth/World Series appearance/World Series win), Johnson might agree to less money on a multi-year contract in order to stay with a winning team
=If Johnson is offered a qualifying offer but rejects and signs somewhere else, (unless they have a top 10 protected pick) the new team he signs with will lose a 2014 draft pick
-The 2013 Blue Jays may not be successful, but Johnson as a player could be. He might leave the team after 2013 and sign with a new team after proving he can make it in the AL East
-That new team might be a divisional rival who will have an intimate knowledge of the Blue Jays players
Ultimately, it is up to Alex Anthopoulos to decide what he wants to do. He does have a plethora of options that will come back from injury in the future, with the likes of Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and (very unlikely, but possible) Dustin McGowan able to contribute to the Blue Jays rotation. However, Josh Johnson does have a history of success that can’t be measured by the likes of those mentioned players, even if it comes with the question mark of whether he will stay healthy or not. Personally, I’d love to go for the midseason extension option. It is equally measured in both the risk of not signing Josh Johnson to a steal of a contract and the ability to see results of him pitching in the AL East. There’s always the possibility Josh Johnson would like to sign elsewhere and won’t agree to a midseason extension, however the option to offer a qualifying offer still exists as a final resort. It’s a very difficult decision to make, with good reasoning for each option.
We’d like to hear what you think!