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Should the Blue Jays Extend Josh Johnson and What Might it Cost?

Photo Courtesy of GMO66

At the time this article is being posted, Josh Johnson has officially been a member of the Toronto Blue Jays for a total of 8 days. It seems like ages ago that the mega-trade was announced by the MLB, but up until the last half week the pace of the offseason really hadn’t slowed down. Despite the acquisition’s recent occurrence an extension for Johnson has already become a topic of discussion amongst media in Toronto. As early as last week Johnson’s agent, Matt Sosnick, was on the Jeff Blair show discussing Johnson’s openness to discuss an extension with the Jays and these same sentiments were reiterated in one of Brandon Kennedy’s most recent columns.

For many franchises in the upper echelon of payroll prowess discussing an extension with a recently traded for pitcher is almost commonplace. These teams being described often trade for pitchers of Johnson’s calibre with the idea of extending said player, assuming said player is willing to discuss the topic. Despite their newfound spot among the league’s elite payrolls the Blue Jays are flowing into relatively uncharted waters and because of this some of the norms that come with a bigger payroll haven’t taken effect in Toronto just yet.

With that said despite what became an estimated $30 million dollar addition to the payroll over the past two weeks there hasn’t been any signs that the Jays are going to slow down just yet. Because of this as well as Josh Johnson’s apparent openness to discuss an extension it isn’t necessarily out of the realm of possibility that the Blue Jays could extend him before this offseason is over. However even with Johnson’s openness and the potential of additional money being available, Josh Johnson himself provides a peculiar extension case.

From Johnson’s first full season in the major leagues until now, he’s averaged just 129 IP per season and has pitched over 200 innings just once. His foray into the world of Dr. James Andrews began in 2007 when he first missed significant time due to a neurological injury in his elbow, which ultimately progressed to a need for Tommy John Surgery, which occurred in August of 2007. Following that surgery Johnson was generally healthy in the subsequent years until 2010 and then later 2011 wherein Josh Johnson missed significant time due to shoulder inflammation.

If one were to look solely at that information and then declare Josh Johnson an injury prone pitcher they likely wouldn’t be alone in that declaration, but despite what is an injury prone past there may be optimism for the future. In Stephania Bell’s pre-2012 starting pitcher injury preview she noted that while the fact that Josh Johnson took longer than expected to come back from shoulder inflammation was discouraging, he had also instituted a new offseason training program, which could provide hope for the future. Said training program was described as such.

[During the 2011/2012] offseason…Johnson worked with a physical therapist on very specific strengthening of the musculature that supports his throwing arm. This type of exercise will not make it outwardly appear as if one has spent serious time in the weight room. It will, however, focus on the neuromuscular coordination of the muscles most important to a pitcher, the ones that often go untrained or at least under-trained, when one veers more into heavy lifting

Beyond that in another article by Stephania Bell, there was a quote from Josh Johnson wherein he expressed his clear belief that his shoulder would be stronger going forward. While we can’t determine too much injury-wise over the course of a single season I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t slightly encouraged by the fact that Josh Johnson implemented his new offseason training program and then went on to pitch the entire 2012 season relatively injury free.

With that said on the statistical front Josh Johnson’s 2012 season wasn’t a complete success. Even though he stayed healthy, he still lost a MPH off of his fastball. It should be noted that dropping a single MPH from 94 MPH to 93 MPH certainly isn’t as detrimental as it would be for a pitcher who throws in the high 80s/low 90s, but it is still concerning nonetheless. As well beyond the decreased velocity almost all of Johnson’s peripherals in 2012 were worse than his career norms. His walk rate rose to 8.2%, his strikeout rate dropped to 20.7%, and his home run rate rose to 0.66 home runs per nine innings. But above all the stat that is perhaps the most concerning was Johnson’s Zone% that dropped 5% below his career average and sat at a career worst 44.4% in 2012. This meaning that in 2012 Josh Johnson threw roughly 600 less pitches inside the strike zone, which is likely evidence of a slight loss of command.

If Johnson were another season removed from the shoulder inflammation that plagued him in 2011 it’s not inconceivable that his velocity would return to career norms, but it’s also no sure thing, which is a major factor to consider in a potential extension.

As for the money side of the extension, since MLBTR started tracking extensions in the early 2000s there has been three starting pitchers who were extended with service times between 6.00 and 8.00, Matt CainKyle Lohse, and Johan Santana. Of those three pitchers the one whose career performance most closely matches Josh Johnson’s is Matt Cain.

Over their careers prior to extension Matt Cain and Josh Johnson produced fWARs of 23.6 and 22.3 respectively. As well in the three years prior to extension Cain and Johnson produced fWARs of 11.7 and 11.8 respectively.

For Matt Cain, his production resulted in the signing of a massive 6 year $127.5 million deal earlier this year. Whether you base your evaluation on the all-encompassing value statistic of your choice or any of the many ERA estimators, Josh Johnson would look to be in line for a similar contract assuming no other factors. However because Johnson has a few previously discussed weak points in his case for a larger extension one would expect an extension with substantially less money than the $127.5 million guaranteed to Matt Cain.

The other day when I put it out on Twitter asking people what kind of contract they thought Josh Johnson would get, the answers ranged from 3 years $45 million to 6 years $100 million. As is evidenced by the variance in predictions it becomes a little hard to make an accurate prediction because there really are no players who have recently been given extensions and who were also in a similar position to Josh Johnson.

He relates closely to Cain on an overall level and it isn’t inconceivable that he might get a contract similar to Cain’s on the open market if he pitches another year of injury free baseball, but for Josh Johnson that Cain contract is too ambitious at this current time. Because of that perhaps something closer to the 5 year, $77.5 million contract that C.J. Wilson landed on the free agent market last offseason is a more realistic possibility.

When the Angels signed Wilson to that contract last offseason he had come into it with two consecutive 4.5+ fWAR seasons, but he also carried the caveats that he appeared to be outperforming his skill set and that he had been a reliever for the majority of his career. Josh Johnson doesn’t carry these same caveats, but he too has glaring holes in his case for a larger extension and it could similarly lessen his expectations.

With that said if one were to take C.J. Wilson’s contract and add the 5% inflation that is generally prescribed to contract growth in the MLB it brings us to 5 years and roughly $82 million. If we assume that the average annual value is the yearly salary then the contract and the wins above replacement required would break down something like this.

Year Salary Projected $/WAR WAR Required
2014 $16,400,000 $5,843,000 2.8
2015 $16,400,000 $6,135,000 2.7
2016 $16,400,000 $6,442,000 2.5
2017 $16,400,000 $6,764,000 2.4
2018 $16,400,000 $7,103,000 2.3
Total $82,000,000 12.8

Depending on what you think of Josh Johnson, 12.8 wins above replacement over his ages 30-34 seasons may seem like quite a bit, but it is definitely well within reach. If one were to assume that 2012 Josh Johnson is who he will be going forward then they can probably assume 4 wins above replacement in 2014. Given that number and a 0.5 WAR decline after the age 30 season it would give Josh Johnson a total of 15 wins above replacement over the course of the contract and that assumes no injuries.

Even if Josh Johnson is injured at some point during those five seasons as long as the injury isn’t career threatening then he should still be more than able to fulfill the aforementioned extension.

As well when you consider that the price of a win may be going up at a faster rate in coming years due to an influx of revenue through new MLB wide and local market television contracts an extension of this nature for a player who has been injury prone could be a risk, but a well calculated risk.

Depending on how Josh Johnson views his own injury risk he may be inclined to sacrifice some money later for a little bit of assurance now, but if something similar to this is all he is offered he may also be inclined to forgo an extension of this size with the hopes of a larger one after a healthy 2013 season. Of course any action by the Blue Jays on this front is also highly dependent on how the rest of the offseason shakes out. It’s nice to know that Josh Johnson is open to an extension, but with 4 months left until the 2013 season begins there is plenty of room for change still left on the Blue Jays roster and it certainly doesn’t seem like Alex Anthopoulos is done just yet.

Should the Blue Jays Extend Josh Johnson and What Might it Cost?
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