Analyzing the Josh Johnson Gamble
Just because the Josh Johnson experiment failed doesn’t mean it was the wrong move this past offseason.
Padre fans are annoyed and disappointed right now. I get it. Potential staff ace, Josh Johnson, needs Tommy John surgery and will not throw a pitch this year (and possibly ever) for the Padres.
Then, the comments began:
— What a stupid contract!
— Same old, cheap Padres!
— Josh Byrnes is stupid!
— I love complaining!
Okay, I added that last one but you get the idea.
Bad news for the complainers: Josh Johnson was still the right move to make.
The fact is: the Padres needed pitching. The team only had 2 starters who had more than 2 full seasons of service time in the major leagues (Kennedy, Stults). Another 2 had a history of injuries (Cashner) or ineffectiveness (Ross). After that, you had a hodgepodge of rookies and journeymen. The Padres were missing a 5th starter.
Let’s also remember that the Padres’ pitching was terrible for most of 2013. The team ERA was around 4.00 and ranked 20th in MLB. When you don’t score runs with much frequency, that will not get it done. Granted, the Padres ranked lower in offense (24th in the Majors) but we can at least say pitching was, at least, as much a need as offense. Given the Padres were counting on returns from injured (Quentin, Grandal, Maybin) or suspended (Cabrera) players in 2014, a strong case could be made that pitching was the greater need.
Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume the Padres decided to sign a position player this past offseason. If they had, it would have to be an outfielder. The entire infield was set and the Padres are not going to block young catchers Austin Hedges or Yasmani Grandal. Even so, it would have been tough to sign someone to play the outfield because you already had 4 guys locked up to guaranteed contracts and your team MVP (Venable) was playing the position. So where and how often would the new guy play?
Things are a little more complicated without the benefit of hindsight.
The list of 2013 free agent outfielders was littered with big money free agents. The Padres can not spend the money it would have taken to sign Ellsbury, Choo or Beltran. So forget the top-tier outfielders.
In the next group you had a player with significant injury risk (Curtis Granderson), one who was 35 years old (Marlon Byrd) and one who was suspended for 50 games as part of the Biogenesis investigation (Nelson Cruz). I, personally, wouldn’t touch the first 2 guys, but there has been some traction among some fans as it relates to Cruz.
Through 3 weeks of the season, Cruz is hitting the cover off the ball and he’d look great in a Padres uniform. He only signed with Baltimore for 1 year and $8 million, the same price as Josh Johnson. Therefore, the Padres could have signed him instead of the big right-hander. I get it. Before fans drive themselves crazy thinking about what could have been, consider a few things:
— Cruz turned down a qualifying offer from the Rangers for $14 million. As far as the Padres were concerned, he set that price and wanted a multi-year deal. That immediately puts the squeeze on a mid-market team when you’re talking those dollars.
— The Padres signed Johnson in November. Due to the fact the Rangers gave him a qualifying offer, and knowing how much it was, it stands to reason the Padres considered Cruz priced-out of their budget. When this happened, they spent their money elsewhere. Cruz remained on the free agent market until February when he settled for $8 Million from Baltimore. Not sure the Padres want to risk having Cruz still available during Spring Training. Plus, there was no way to know he’d still be available.
— Cruz is a below average defender, costing him team aware from a -0.1 to -2.2 dWAR in his career. If you have an outfield of Quentin and Cruz in Petco Park you’re surrendering quite a few runs over the course of a season.
— Cruz doesn’t hit right handed pitching as well as the Padres would want. The team struggled hitting righties (one reason they traded for Seth Smith) in 2013. In his career, Cruz is a 262/318/491 hitter vs. RHP. To put it in perspective, Cameron Maybin is career 248/317/380 vs RHP. Obviously, those numbers aren’t the same, but they are only 12 and 1 points apart in AVG and OBP. Cruz obviously has more power.
I am as disappointed as anyone that JJ needs TJ. It sucks. But given all the variables, it seems like the gamble was the most logical road to travel this past offseason. It is easy to nitpick now, but remember what people say about how clear things are after the fact.