On Wednesday, the news that many feared and others warned against, came in on Josh Johnson. Season over. Tommy John surgery imminent. $8 million gone. And so ended (in all likelihood) the brief Padre career of Josh Johnson. Now there’s nothing left but the hand wringing.
Josh Johnson, as has been detailed in numerous places by now, was the Padres big free agent signing of the 2013/2014 winter. A marked improvement from a year prior when the “big” signing was a resigning of Jason Marquis, though now I suppose you could argue the re-signing of Jason Marquis was more successful than signing a pitcher who will never throw a pitch for the Padres in a regular season game.
We’ll always have those 9 innings in Peoria though, Josh.
There’s really no way to spin this other than as bad news. Of course it’s bad news. A pitcher with Cy Young potential (though you’d have to seriously question, with 2 Tommy John’s in 6 years, whether that potential still exist) who was slotted in as a major cog to the rotation will now never throw a pitch. We can’t say we didn’t see this coming though. As Sac Bunt wrote last November, Josh Johnson brought with him a lot of excitement, and a lot of risk. In fact, at the time of the signing the Padres were praised for including a $4 million 2015 option based on starts made, an option that will vest now. Fear of an injury followed Josh Johnson’s signing in San Diego.
But so it goes with gambles.
The Padres may end up ok at the end of all of this of course. While losing $8 million probably doesn’t feel great, it’s not a detrimental amount of wasted money for a ballclub. And the current Padres staff has not only survived the loss of Johnson but thrived in spite of his absence. Presently the Padres hold the 4th best Team ERA, the 3rd lowest runs allowed per game, and the 4th best WHIP. With the offense as anemic as it is, the Padres pitching staff has kept the team hovering around the .500 mark.
Andrew Cashner has of course been the star of the show being every bit the ace people believed he could be. Tyson Ross, while not as sharp yet as in 2013 has still been exceedingly good. Bringing up the rear of the rotation, due to the Johnson DL stint to start the season, has been Robbie Erlin. Erlin is an interesting case. Last year Erlin pitched about 153 innings, a career high for him. He will almost certainly exceed that number now with the Johnson news. And while he will likely fall short of 200 innings through the use of well-timed DL stints and skipped starts (and method previously employed by the Padres with Mat Latos) the increase in innings will still be substantial.It’s players like Robbie Erlin (and Casey Kelly and Burch Smith who will likely take some starts later in the season when Erlin’s IP start to creep up) that make surviving the Johnson news far easier to stomach. Unlike the offense, which has been unable to even tread water while waiting for the likes of Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin to return, the Padres pitching has exceeded expectations so far in 2014, and more ammunition is a Southwest flight away.
Questions will arise if the Padres find themselves in contention in August/September. How many games can the Padres risk on unproven starters when every game matters down the stretch? That’s a problem for another time.
For now, the Padres rolled the dice on Josh Johnson. And came up snake eyes. And while no one should begrudge the Padres for taking the chance, what they should begrudge the Padres is when they put all their eggs on a gamble. While the Padres will survive this gamble from a pitching perspective, it should serve as teachable moment. One year deals on possibly damaged yet possible great arms is fine. As long as you supplement them with safer bets.