As you’ve probably heard by now, last night pending free agent Tim Lincecum eschewed the market and re-upped with the San Francisco Giants. And why the hell wouldn’t he, with the contract they offered him?
Drew goes over the particulars at Getting Blanked, as he admittedly finds himself “searching desperately for silver linings to Tim Lincecum’s two-year, $35 million contract.” The big one for me, and as it pertains to the Blue Jays, is what he lists as “Reality #5 - Baseball salaries are not what they once were.”
“Your idea and my idea of a bad contract is about to take a significant hit. The economic environment didn’t change overnight but the salaries we see now and will continue to see are going to blow your mind. If we, as a baseball consuming public, can’t get our heads around this, then every single contract will look like an overpay. Your $/WAR calculator needs an OS upgrade, bro. Welcome to the New Tomorrow.”
That’s the rub. And it’s very clearly worked into how Danny Knobler– the Knobler!– explained the Giants’ end of the deal, which I think happens to be a bang-on assessment:
Giants knew it would seem like an overpay on Lincecum, but felt cost to replace him in rotation would be even higher (with no certainty).
— Danny Knobler (@DannyKnoblerCBS) October 23, 2013
Not only do they think the market for pitching is going to get crazy– and… uh… about that… uh… an ESPN New York report suggests the Yankees could be on the verge of a massive spending spree– but they valued the certainty, both in terms of cost and in terms of getting him to put his name on a contract.
In other words, legitimately, I think, they feared the huge risks of letting him walk and committing themselves to finding a replacement for those innings on the open market. Plus, as Drew tries to indicate in his piece, Lincecum’s performance wasn’t maybe as bad as it seems on the surface.
The same can’t be said about Josh Johnson’s disastrous 2013, but there are still some parallels in terms of cost certainty, which leads us to this:
@BVHJays I think this guarantees that he gets a QO.
— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) October 23, 2013
Yikes. But you know what? Not entirely crazy. The devil you know, and all that.
More importantly: the devil you know you can sign, because as ass-bonkers as the market may be getting, there is no way a team parts with a top draft pick and over $14-million just to get Johnson. The Jays, on the other hand, have zero certainty anywhere else, and a pitcher who’ll command one of the market’s bigger one-year deals just sitting there for the taking.
The warts on Johnson were painfully obvious for everyone to see this season, which I’m sure makes the prospect of his return especially vomitous to the pouting negative suckholes who can’t wrap their heads around how rare it actually is to find a pitcher with a track record of health and performance as good as even just his 2012 season.
To wit: this season fewer than 30 pitchers matched or bettered the 3.5 fWAR Johnson put up over 191 innings in 2012. The same was true of that season, and the same was true of the season before that. And only 18 pitchers appear on those lists more than once– with only eight doing so all three times.
By the Baseball Reference version of the metric Johnson was worth 3.3 wins, which is a total fewer than 40 pitchers matched or bettered this season– and, as with fWAR, the same can be said of 2012 and 2011 as well.
Believe it or not, then, even when he was the new, post-injury pitcher that we saw back in Spring Training, before it all derailed so badly, he was a very scarce commodity.
Is it scary that he made just nine big league starts in the year before that season, and just 16 in the year after? Of course it is. But if you shift the arbitrary endpoints just slightly, you can also say that he pitched more than 180 innings in three of the four seasons before this one.
And let’s not forget that the principle that made him an attractive, if oft-injured, player for the 2013 Jays still remains in place– and has, in fact, probably been strengthened. Back then it was: “If he gets hurt, that’s not the worst, because we’ll have J.A. Happ sitting in Buffalo waiting to take his place.” Then it was Ricky Romero sitting in Buffalo. Then it was Happ sitting in a Tampa hospital bed after taking a ball to the head, and… well… you all remember the gory details (and if not, you can always check out the upcoming book on the atrocity that was 2013 from the excellent John Lott and Shi Davidi!).
This year there is a much, much deeper– if untested– well of talent to dip into should it turn out that Johnson’s elbow surgery hasn’t righted him. If Johnson misses ten- fifteen- twenty starts, I don’t feel so bad giving them to a Drew Hutchison or a Marcus Stroman, assuming they’re still here and still on the outside looking in. Shit, even Aaron Sanchez should be in Double-A by early next season.
Is it ideal? No. But the Jays have the depth to take the gamble on it being a defensible use of resources, especially when compared to the gamble required in trying to replace a fifth starter of that potential calibre on the open market. With the cheap services of at least a few Stroman and Hutchison and Drabek and Happ and Redmond and Rogers and Sanchez likely still there if necessary, Josh Johnson is a hell of a lottery ticket to hold, and one that the Jays can ill afford to simply walk away from.
As for the money, while I think our daydreaming of late about Rogers actually, seriously opening up the purse strings and spending on a level commensurate of a team Bloomberg has determined is the 12th most valuable in baseball is maybe a little bit fanciful, I can’t imagine that when they dealt for him last year they hadn’t accounted for the fact that bringing him back on a qualifying offer was a distinct possibility.
Maybe they were so high on visions of World Series gumdrops and blow jobs that they didn’t think it would ever come to this, so maybe the budget isn’t there– or maybe they’ll see something in his medicals that scares them off far more than what we can see from here– but while it’s only an educated guess, I have to say that at this point I’d be very surprised if he didn’t return. And with successful elbow surgery earlier this month having cleaned up the bone spurs he evidently had tried to pitch through this season, I really do think that’s beyond OK. *Fingers crossed.*