Jim Johnson (Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports)
The Houston Astros need a closer. I’m not sure that I can be more blunt than that.
Not even just a closer, but essentially a brand new bullpen. That is what happens when your team leads the league with 29 blown saves. There are plenty of other advanced statistics that back up how bad the bullpen was and the games that it cost the Astros in 2013, but that is in the past. Quite frankly, none of that matters if Jeff Luhnow upgrades the stable of relievers that Bo Porter can call upon in 2014.
Peter Moylan, who was invited to Spring Training on a minor league contract is a start. Same with Raul Valdes and Darin Downs — regardless of my thoughts as to whether they should be on the 40-man roster. But they are just a start. The tip of the proverbial iceberg if you would. While the possibility is there for all three to be solid contributors, there is still more work to be done. At the same time, there are some young pieces like Josh Fields and Kevin Chapman that should not be discounted.
But I’m not sure that Jim Johnson is the answer.
Baltimore has put their All-Star closer on the trade market for obvious reasons. Johnson has had his share of success over the last few seasons, but he very quickly is getting expensive. And for the same reasons why the Orioles would entertain trading Johnson, I do not think pursuing him would be prudent.
Johnson is not your stereotypical closer just based on the fact that he does not throw hard. The 30-year old only struck out 41 batters in 68.2 innings in 2012 and followed that up with 56 strikeouts over 70.1 innings last season. But he did save 51 and 50 games respectively the last two years. And both seasons, he had an ERA under three (2.49 and 2.94), so what is the problem? Clearly the fact that Johnson is not a strikeout pitcher should not matter.
As a red flag his WHIP did increase in 2013 from 1.02 to 1.28 which caused the jump in ERA. Even though he was temporarily removed from the closer’s role over the summer, it didn’t hamper him that much as he still saved 50 games.
Closers sometimes have a shorter shelf life, and I’m not entirely confident in Johnson’s chances at another 50 save season in 2014, or even 40 saves for that matter.
I wouldn’t be in total objection to the Astros acquiring him, but it just doesn’t make sense at this time. Houston would have to give up prospects, pay him $10 million this season, and then also commit to Johnson long term to make the trade worth while. For a player that I don’t have complete confidence in, it might not be the most prudent move. Plus for a team with so many other weaknesses, that is not the best allocation of funds.