Exercise Josh Johnson’s 2015 Option Now!

Exercise Josh Johnson‘s 2015 option? Exercise it now when there’s news that he’s on his way to see Dr. James Andrews, likely putting an end to his 2014 season?

Before you dismiss this suggestion as the ravings of a lunatic (and it is lunacy for no other reason than options don’t get picked up until the season ends and performance thresholds are met or missed), resist for but a moment. It was just the other night that I jokingly offered the following:

This was a joke without a punchline. Here’s the punchline . . .

There it is! A Caddy Shack reference! Yes! No? Sorry.

I was not serious in any way. Instead, I chose to use twitter for its intended purpose:  To be a facetious jerkface.

But I’ve been thinking about this and if you’ll indulge me I would like to make a case for keeping Josh Johnson around in 2015.

What Did We Know Then?

We know that Josh Johnson, once a very effective pitcher, had a procedure performed last fall to remove loose bodies in his elbow. As a pitcher coming off injury and looking to reestablish himself he gladly signed a contract to resurrect his career in the friendly environs of Petco Park.

For the low, low cost of $8M bucks the Padres acquired Johnson on November 19th, 2013. As part of his contract the Padres threw JJ a performance bonus: Start 26 games or more and earn an additional $1.25M.

The Padres also hedged their gamble by installing a club friendly option of $4M for 2015, in the event that Johnson made fewer than 7 starts this season.

What Do We Know Now?

We know that Josh Johnson got off to a strong start this spring, felt great, and was then shut down with elbow/forearm tightness/pain, Jesus Christ/not again.

Subsequently, Johnson missed the rest of spring, has yet to start a game during the regular season and now has a return visit with noted surgeon of elbows, Dr. James Andrews.

Assumptions

Is it safe to assume that Josh Johnson will make fewer than 7 starts this season? With news that Johnson is visiting Andrews, and a torn UCL earlier in his career, I think this assumption is safe. Not only is it safe it’s required! Without this essential assumption I can’t continue to write this article. Plus, we’re Padres fans, shouldn’t we just assume a Tommy John procedure is around the corner?

So if we’re to believe that the knife is eminent then we can safely assume that Josh Johnson will not make a start in 2014. When 2014 ends the Padres will then have a decision to make: Part ways with the massive Canadian or pick him up for 2015 at the discounted, damaged goods price of $4M.

If the procedure is done by the middle of May, and the ligament graft adheres without the yellow mushiness experienced by Cory Luebke, then the Padres could expect to possibly see Josh Johnson at some point next summer. Casey Kelly, who underwent surgery on April 2nd, 2013 is moving towards simulated games and is expected to contribute this season. Getting use out of Josh Johnson next year seems like a possibility and it would occur at the low price of $4M in 2015.

Throwing Good Money After Bad?

Would it be foolhardy to throw an additional $4M at an oft injured pitcher with the expectation of seeing him throw, at best, 3-4 months of next season? That might just be the literal interpretation of throwing good money after bad.

But here’s another way to look at it . . .

Josh Johnson has spent virtually his entire time under contract with the Padres in rehabilitation mode and if he undergoes a UCL transplant he will continue to rehab through the entirety of his contract with the Padres. Should the Padres pay Josh Johnson to rehabilitate his elbow in 2014 and then reap none of the rewards when he returns to the mound next year? It seems absurd to pay a guy to repair himself so that another team can benefit from his performance.

To ensure that Josh Johnson is a Padre in 2015 the Padres have to give him $4M next year which, assuming payroll growth*, would constitute possibly less than 4% of total payroll. It’s always easy to give away money when it’s not yours to give, but the Padres should be able to withstand a $4M contract gone bad, just as they should have been able to absorb the risk of JJ’s $8M contract this season. A sound organization** can rebound from contracts such as these when they go bad.

* A dangerous assumption n San Diego.

** An article for another day.

It’s also worth noting that if the Padres stick with Josh Johnson and show that they care about him as a person and a player it could create the sort of good will necessary to bring players to San Diego in the future. Imagine the Padres showing such a gesture, Josh Johnson rebounding in 2015, and then deciding to sign long term because he felt like, gasp, the Padres cared about him.

Is the price of goodwill worth $4M? Is the specter of a healthy Josh Johnson, coming off the second UCL replacement of his career*, worth $4M? We’ll see what Byrnes, Fowler, et. al. think come November.

* Sorry for preemptively cutting your elbow a second time, Josh. I hope it’s just a strain.

***

I contribute to Padres Public on Thursday mornings and when I’m feeling particularly inspired by yellow, mushy, replacement ligaments. I can also be found on twitter at @AvengingJM. The dusty archives of AJM are located at avengingjm.blogspot.com

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  • ballybunion

    There is no loyalty in baseball. Padres loyalty to JJ will work only if the dollars are equal, maybe (the only thing players/agents love more than money is chances to get a ring). I’ve turned cynical in my old age, and I’m only middle aged!**

    ** A recent poll of Baby Boomers places “middle age” as between 55 and 70.

    • http://padrespublic.com/ AvengingJackMurphy

      Fair enough. So $4M for a few months of work – do the Padres do it?

      • ballybunion

        Sorry about the tardy reply, but… no, I don’t think $4 mil for a partial season of a brittle former ace is a good investment. The Padres will have lefty Juan Pablo Oramas ready for the beginning of 2015, and probably Wieland as well, with Kelly about ready, and for late season comebacks, Luebke might be ready. Why use a roster spot on a 31 year old when it just delays the arrival of younger, mostly cheaper pitchers the Padres can control for several years longer?