Just before the midnight non-tender deadline last night, the Oakland Athletics acquired Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson in exchange for second baseman Jemile Weeks. Johnson was projected to make over $10 million in arbitration by MLBTR, leading to the Orioles looking at possible trade options for the 30-year old.
Johnson has put together back to back 50 save seasons for Baltimore, but he lacks the high strikeout totals you'd expect from many closers. In fact, four Oakland relievers struck out more hitters over the past two seasons than Johnson, who tallied just 97 in 139 innings. But Johnson also kept his walks low, giving up just 33 free passes over the past two years, and generated plenty of weak contact. Johnson is a ground ball machine, and has allowed only eight home runs over the past two seasons – a number that could decrease with his home games coming at O.co Coliseum.
He'll replace free agent Grant Balfour as the A's ninth inning stopper. The free agent Balfour made $4.5 million in 2013, and was in line for a raise after a 38 save season. 2014 is Johnson's final year of arbitration, so while he'll cost Oakland a nice chunk of change this year, they're only tied in to him for one year. Balfour would likely require a multi-year contract to return to Oakland.
The return for Johnson is middling, but the Orioles pick up a player that might still have some upside left in the tank. Weeks had a great rookie year in 2011 with Oakland, hitting .303/.340/.431 with 22 stolen bases, but lost his job late in the 2012 season after putting together a miserable .221/.305/.304 campaign. In 2013, Weeks logged just nine plate appearances in the majors, spending nearly the entire year in AAA. Weeks will turn 27 in January, and could get a chance to start at second base for an Orioles team that gave 271 plate appearances to Ryan Flaherty at second last year, in spite of a putrid .224/.293/.390 line. Long-time Oriole Brian Roberts is also a free agent, and he's coming off of a 296 plate appearance 2013, which was his healthiest season since 2009.
The trade is essentially just a salary dump for Baltimore, but it makes sense – they weren't really in a position to pay Johnson eight figures in 2014 when they have more glaring needs, especially in the wake of Manny Machado's September knee injury. Baltimore has plenty of relievers that could slide into Johnson's role as closer, including Brian Matusz, Darren O'Day, and Tommy Hunter, among others.
When you combine Johnson's acquisition with the signing of Scott Kazmir on Monday, Oakland looks like a team that is doing some retooling this winter. I speculated about a possible Brett Anderson trade yesterday, and this trade strengthens my opinion that Anderson will be traded. ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted this morning that the club is looking into trades for the lefty, and that Seattle and Cleveland are interested. I'm wondering if Anderson might just be the tip of the iceberg for Oakland, and if the club might make more deals this winter. Never count anything out with Billy Beane.