So far in this Free Agent Pitcher Profile series, I have taken a look at four different high-profile names on the market, all of whom strike me as logical fits for the Twins for specific reasons. Tim Lincecum
has his strikeout proficiency. Phil Hughes
has his youth. Ubaldo Jimenez
has his ace upside. Ervin Santana
has his stinginess with hits and base runners.
Josh Johnson has the potential to offer all the above. But he's also coming off a worse season than any of the aforementioned hurlers, and he recently underwent
"minor" surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow. (We saw how that type of thing went with Vance Worley and Scott Diamond this year.) Because of those factors, he figures to be far more affordable than the rest of the high-end free agent crop, and probably won't require a long-term commitment, meaning he might be right be in the Twins' wheelhouse.
Why Does He Fit?
For a seven-year stretch with the Marlins from 2006 through 2012, Johnson was one of the premier performers in the National League, posting a 3.14 ERA and 1.23 WHIP while allowing just 59 home runs in 904 innings. The righty routinely posted strong strikeout rates, induced a fair share of grounders, and was on multiple occasions a legitimate Cy Young candidate (especially in 2010 when he finished with a 2.30 ERA).
When he's healthy and at his best, Johnson has been a true ace. He doesn't turn 30 until January so age isn't a major concern, and while arm issues bogged him down this season the hope is that an offseason elbow clean-up will restore him to his previous level of effectiveness.
Given his situation, Johnson seems almost certain to take a one-year make-good deal. That involves little risk, and while such a short contract wouldn't seem to fit with the Twins' long-term rebuilding plan, a strong bounceback season would give the club a lot of options. They could flip him before the deadline for prospects, or seek to lock him up with a long-term deal that would entrench him at the top of their rotation for several years.
It's worth noting that Johnson was born in Minneapolis, so he might be slightly more inclined to view the Twins as a landing spot, though that shouldn't be assumed.
Why Doesn't He Fit?
Johnson's health is a major question mark, and that's nothing new. Durability concerns have plagued his entire career. He's reached 200 innings only once. Since first becoming a full-time big-leaguer in 2006, he has averaged fewer than 20 starts per year. And now he's coming off a season in which he battled forearm pain, posted a hideous 6.20 ERA and finished with just 81 innings.
As he leaves the Blue Jays, Johnson has about as many red flags attached to him as a Canadian parade. That could repel a Twins club seeking to add reliability to a rotation that had only one member throw more than 152 innings in 2013.
What Will He Cost?
There seems to be widespread agreement that Johnson will seek a one-year deal, because it simply doesn't make much sense for him to do anything else. Nobody's going to make a huge commitment to a guy with an ominous medical situation, but Johnson has enough talent and track record that he could probably strike it big in a year if he returns to form in 2014. So what it will likely come down to is who can offer the most attractive situation for him this year.
Money is part of that equation. In the Offseason Handbook
, we guessed that he'd end up getting $7 million. More than likely he'll prefer to link up with a contender, but perhaps the Twins can sway him by significantly outbidding other interested parties. Jim Pohlad himself has said that he's willing to spend "any amount of money" on a current year contract, which would seemingly indicate that if Terry Ryan likes Johnson, the general manager will have approval to do whatever it takes to bring aboard the sometimes injured, sometimes elite starter.