How much is a good closer worth?
Well, the Orioles believe $6.5 million. That’s what Jim Johnson will receive for 2013 after notching a league-leading and franchise best 51 saves last year.
Who knows if the 29-year-old Johnson will be able to repeat his tremendous performance this season? It certainly won’t be easy.
And there are a whole lot of people out there that think big money for a closer is a waste given the volatility of the position and the success achieved by non-closers when thrust into the role. The Orioles have proven that point over the years (Mike Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg both were signed to be closers and both lost their jobs to Koji Uehara and Johnson, respectively).
Johnson has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining, meaning after 2014 he can be a free agent. And if he repeats his dominance in 2013, he is going to be looking at a major payday heading into his free agent year.
The Orioles will consider then whether to lock him up long-term. From what I’m sensing, there was no real talk about an extension this winter. The Orioles presumably want to see Johnson do it again – and that’s an understandable philosophy given what I said earlier about a closer’s volatility.
Johnson received nearly a $4 million raise from 2012. And as incomprehensible as that number is for most of us, it genuinely is good to see the man’s hard work pay off financially. Johnson isn’t one of the warmer or fuzzier guys in the Orioles’ clubhouse, but he works exceptionally hard and has overcome injuries to get where he is. It’s impossible not to respect his work ethic and team-first attitude.
** Starter Jason Hammel also got a big boost in salary on Friday, from $4.75 million to $6.75 million. He can earn an additional $100,000 each if he makes 25 starts, throws 175 innings and 190 innings. He also can pick up an additional $50,000 each for making the all star team, winning an ALCS MVP and a World Series MVP.
He’ll be a free agent at the end of this season, but again the Orioles weren’t jumping into extension talks with him. Although Hammel, 30, is an interesting case. He has always had the ability, but didn’t show the consistency. Last year, he was the model of consistency, but his balky right knee limited him to just 20 starts.
If he can combine the consistency with good health, he’ll be writing his own check next year at 31. The club loved how he fit into the clubhouse and his competitiveness, but now he has to prove he can pitch superbly for a full season.
I’m sure there will be grumblings that the Orioles should have offered something similar or a little better. He is from Northern Virginia, loved being here and was another great clubhouse fit. So why choose the Mariners if it weren’t for two years?
Well, the Mariners do have spring training in Arizona, where Saunders lives. And he has amazing numbers at Safeco Field (6-0 in nine starts). But there could be something else at play, too. If you are going to agree to a one-year contract, Seattle is one of the best places to do it.
Even with the fences coming in, it’s a pitcher’s park. He should be able to put up excellent numbers there and then enter the market again next year at age 32. My guess is his people won’t be asking for a four-year deal to start next winter, though.
** So, have you ever read this blog and thought, “I’d love to talk to that guy face-to-face?” OK, I’m sure you haven’t. But on the outside chance you have, Monday is your night.
I’ll be talking all things baseball and Orioles at Zion Lutheran Church, 2215 Brandywine Lane in York, Pa., at 7 p.m. Monday. The baseball “hot stove” talk will also feature SI.com/MASN’s Mel Antonen and The York Daily Record’s Jim Seip.
This is our third year, it’s a great time and it’s free – although there will be a freewill offering for the church’s youth ministry programs. Hope to see you there.