It appears the discussion revolving around Orioles closer Jim Johnson and his future with the club will be one of the most interesting topics of the hot-stove season.
On Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that the Orioles are willing to listen to trade offers for Johnson.
After talking to people within the organization, I get the sense that this trade talk definitely has more legs than previous reports that the Orioles were open to dealing shortstop J.J. Hardy or catcher Matt Wieters this offseason.
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The Orioles appear willing to listen to offers for Johnson.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette reaffirmed earlier this week that the club will tender Johnson a contract for 2014, his final season of arbitration eligibility. He stands to make more than $10 million through the arbitration process after recording his second straight 50-save season.
That's a lot of money to pay a closer. Only four clubs paid $10 million or more annually for their closer in 2013, mainly because closers generally have relatively short shelf lives.
The Orioles stuck with Johnson last season despite nine blown saves. Right now, he’s penciled in to be their closer in 2014. The Orioles want him back.
The idea of trading Johnson brings up several questions, none more important than who would replace him as the team's closer. If push came to shove, Tommy Hunter would likely take over. And while Hunter’s power arm is ideal for the late innings, it’s uncertain whether he is built to consistently preserve one-run leads in the AL East.
Then there’s the question of how many teams would truly be interested in paying a closer who becomes a free agent after next season $10 million. Realistically, there are probably less than a handful of suitors.
This does explain why the Orioles have been steadfast in saying they will tender Johnson a contract. Otherwise, other teams would just wait for Johnson to be non-tendered and sign him to a lesser deal.
Even if the Orioles deal Johnson, there’s no guarantee that the money saved would be used to invest in a starting pitcher.
Ultimately, the Orioles need to decide what Johnson is worth and what they're willing to pay. If it’s not $10 million, they probably need to let Johnson know that before the arbitration process progresses so they can try to work out a common ground. If they’re not willing to give him $10 million in 2014, are they willing to give him a two-year deal for $16-$18 million?
That question is one that’s probably been asked in the warehouse often.