I guess this counts as early October, but this is certainly not quite what I expected when, as Ben Nicholson-Smith wrote at Sportsnet early last month, Alex Anthopoulos told reporters that he expected “to make a decision on whether to extend Josh Johnson a qualifying offer by early to mid-October.”
No decision has been made yet by the club, but still. At the time, Anthopoulos explained that “Once he’s had his full rest and we get to talk to our doctors and our trainers and so on, just to get a sense of how they feel he’s progressing. That would be the final piece of information that we need.”
Well how’s this for information on how he’s progressing?: Johnson’s agent Matt Sosnick tells MLB Trade Rumors that his client went under the knife of Dr. James Andrews this week, getting bone spurs removed from his pitching elbow.
Andrews, according to the report, told Johnson that “he feels the discomfort caused by the spurs was the cause of his struggles with the Blue Jays this year. No issues were found with Johnson’s elbow ligament. Johnson will be throwing in five weeks, and will be ready for spring training.”
As noted by @ecb282, that’s the same surgery that Sergio Santos had back in May, when a so-far prescient observer opined that: “The triceps is pretty related to the elbow, so it’s completely understandable how we’ve reached this point, though I’m sure that’s going to be enough to keep the waves of sarcasm about the deal with the White Sox from continuing to pound the battered shoreline of pointlessness. One day people will see what Santos is all about, I’m still confident, and it’ll be pretty fucking glorious.”
Johnson, you may recall, was initially experiencing what was believed to be a triceps problem as well. And Santos has come back more than OK, so…
Yeah, I don’t know. Part of me actually wants to believe that this really does give us reason to believe in a turnaround for Johnson next year, but I’ve kinda been burned by going down this road before, haven’t I? Alex Anthopoulos, too. But there’s a reason for it: Johnson, when he’s right, has a fuckload of talent.
And bone spurs, at least in the anecdotal sense, aren’t a catastrophic thing for a pitcher to have surgery to clean up. For example, in 2012, the Angels’ C.J. Wilson posted his worst ERA, FIP, and xFIP since becoming a full-time starter. He had surgery to remove bone spurs last off-season and bounced back this year– as he did in 2009 as well, after having bone spurs removed at the end of 2008.
Of course, that’s C.J. Wilson’s elbow, not Josh Johnson’s elbow. And Wilson and Santos are but two nicely cherry-picked examples.
But… man, I really do think that Johnson can still be a terrific pitcher– we saw it last spring, and in his three-and-a-half win, 191 inning 2012– and while the notion of giving him the $14-million qualifying offer that would ensure he remains with the Jays next year is pretty far gone out the window, the club has a month in which only they can negotiate with him. If they’re willing to offer him fair market value, and Johnson and Sosnick are comfortable not hitting the open market and extracting every last dollar from whatever kind of bidding war they can create– which, from everything I know from speaking to Sosnick and hearing him on the radio, sounds entirely plausible– maybe the two sides can work something out that will net the Jays a very high ceiling pitcher for a price that doesn’t bust their budget or limit their ability to do other things.
If, that is, they believe what Dr. Andrews is saying, and are willing to go down this road again.
I’m not so naive as to demand that big league ballplayers exhibit some kind of loyalty to clubs that have little interest in being loyal to them once their utility expires, but it wouldn’t surprise me either if Johnson would welcome, after all that the Jays did to acquire him, and with all contract possibilities being equal, the opportunity to have another chance at showing this city and this team what he can really do.
Or… OK, maybe I am naive. But as much as a pitcher having his elbow operated on isn’t a good thing, and as much as you can never have anything resembling certainty on a guy with the spotty health history Johnson has, there’s an opportunity here. If bone spurs were the issue, and they’re now gone, there is a good deal of precedent to suggest Johnson could get back to the guy you hoped you were getting. Given his contract status and the way this season went for him, the price to retain him may very well be tidy enough to try it again and hope that he’s right enough to end up blocking guys like Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman.
The price has to be right, of course, and the budget will need the flexibility to still do a lot more, but– and this is even surprising a little bit to me– I haven’t been dissuaded enough by his 2013 disaster to stop believing in his talent. I’d bring him back on the cheap-ish without blinking an eye. No, really.
Hey, and if I read to the end of the MLBTR piece, I’d have noticed this:
Sosnick, who also represents free agent hurler Ricky Nolasco, tells MLBTR Johnson will absolutely consider signing with the Blue Jays if they do not make a qualifying offer. Johnson loved playing for manager John Gibbons, and bought into the vision of GM Alex Anthopoulos. A one-year deal with incentives seems likely for Johnson.
That’s all easy for Sosnick to say now, but… seriously, make it happen! And have a chat about Nolasco while you’re at it!