The San Francisco Giants aren't wasting any time this offseason, already filling two of three potential holes in a starting rotation that has been amongst the best in baseball for years.
Tim Lincecum was re-signed to a two-year, $35 million deal last month, while three-time All-Star Tim Hudson agreed to a two-year, $23 million deal on Monday. Two down, one to go?
Despite having a handful of in-house options to compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, including Yusmeiro Petit, who pitched well in seven late-season starts in 2013 (3.59 ERA, 42.2 IP, 40 H, 11 BB, 40 K), and Eric Surkamp (2.80 ERA in 16 starts between Triple-A and Double-A), the Giants might not be done adding starting pitching.
And if Josh Johnson has his way, he could be the last piece to the rotation puzzle. According to Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, the 29-year-old has let the Giants and the San Diego Padres know that they are his first choices to be his next team.
Not only are the two teams a short plane ride away from his Las Vegas home, Johnson's need to rebuild his value after a disappointing 2013 season makes each team an ideal fit because of their respective pitcher-friendly ballparks.
After establishing himself as one of the best starting pitchers in the game while with the Marlins, posting a 39-13 record with a 2.80 ERA, 2.5 BB/9 and 8.5 K/9 in an 84-start span from 2008 until early-2011, Johnson suffered a shoulder injury that cut his 2011 season short.
When he returned in 2012, he wasn't as dominant as in years past, although he did manage to post a 3.81 ERA with 3.1 BB/9 and 7.8 K/9 in 31 starts. Traded to Toronto last offseason, he showed signs of his old self but never fully got back on track as he spent two separate stints on the disabled list and finished the season with a 6.20 ERA in only 16 starts, including six with at least five earned runs allowed.
Now three seasons removed from his shoulder troubles, teams could see Johnson as a great "buy low" candidate with tremendous upside, especially a team like the Giants, who have already committed close to $53 million in salary to their top four starting pitchers in 2014, according to MLBDepthCharts, and might not want to add too much more.
Adding a former ace in the prime of his career at a price anywhere south of $10 million for a season in which he's motivated by the potential of a huge payday the following offseason could be a terrific investment. When a big market team like the Giants can pencil that former ace into the No. 5 spot of their rotation, where his potential inability to rebound wouldn't have a major impact on the team, it's also a pretty safe investment.
Johnson's lone start at AT&T Park in 2013 was one of his best of the season as he tossed seven strong innings, allowing just one earned run on six hits with no walks and six strikeouts. In five career starts against San Francisco at their home ballpark, Johnson has a 2.65 ERA with eight walks and 26 strikeouts in 34 innings pitched.
The ballpark he was pitching in wasn't the reason that he could no longer get batters out. But a home park that he feels comfortable in—mostly because balls don't fly out of AT&T Park and pitches thrown out over the heart of the plate are less likely to be hit over the right field wall—could do wonders for his confidence level.
In his potential rotation-mates in San Francisco, Johnson could find much in common and, maybe more importantly, much to learn from one of the most successful groups of starters currently assembled.
Staff ace Matt Cain will also be trying to rebound from a poor season, at least by his standards, while Lincecum will be able to share his knowledge on how he finally got back on track after a year-and-a-half of struggles. Hudson, who is also returning from a season-ending injury in 2013, has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball since entering the league in 1999.
If Johnson can at least pitch as well as he did over a nine-start span from April 16 through July 9 (3.74 ERA, 53 IP, 53 H, 18 BB, 53 K; four starts with at least 7 IP and no more than 2 ER allowed), he'd be a great value. If it all comes together again for the 6-foot-7 right-hander, though, and he regains the form of his days with the Florida Marlins, whichever team signs him could have the free agent bargain of the offseason.
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