Late Monday night the Orioles traded former All-Star closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics for second baseman Jemile Weeks and a minor league player to be named later.
Johnson, who saved 101 games for the Orioles in the past two seasons, was set to make more than $10 million in arbitration in 2014.
Instead of paying that much for a closer – and one who had led the majors with nine blown saves last season – the club picked up a young infielder and another minor leaguer and will be able to use the money allocated for Johnson in other ways.
“It’s really about the allocation of resources,” said Dan Duquette, the Orioles’ executive vice president. “And to have a competitive team, you have to have proper balance throughout your club. And this is our intent with the trade: to balance our roster and allocate our resources properly and have a competitive team in 2014.”
Johnson, 30, became the club’s full-time closer in 2012 and set a franchise record with 51 saves while blowing just three opportunities.
He made the All-Star team that year and led the majors in saves. But he wasn’t as effective in 2013, blowing nine of his 59 chances – but still saved more games than any other American League closer.
“Jim Johnson did a nice job for the Orioles,” Duquette said. “He was originally signed by the Orioles and came up through the organization and we want to thank him for his service to the team and wish him the best of luck.”
The Orioles don’t have an obvious replacement to close games, though late-inning relievers Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day could be in the mix or the club could go outside the organization.
“Keep in mind, in the start of 2012 season, we were in the same position and Johnson emerged and did a nice job,” Duquette said.
In Weeks, Duquette said, the Orioles received a “young, skilled major league player, a good base runner, base-stealer, switch hitter.”
When asked if Weeks (whose first name is pronounced Juh-MILE) would get a chance at the club’s open second base spot, Duquette said, “We can decide that in the spring. He has some good assets to help the club.”
A 26-year-old switch hitter, Weeks spent most of last season at Triple-A, playing just eight games with the A’s in 2013, going 1-for-9 with five strikeouts and three runs scored.
In 130 games with Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, Weeks hit .271/.376/.369 with four homers and 40 RBIs. He was also 17 for 19 on stolen-base attempts. Weeks owns a .388 on-base percentage in parts of three seasons at the Triple-A level.
Weeks, a first-round pick by the A’s in 2008 out of the University of Miami, has just more than a year of big league experience, so he will be under team control for the next five seasons.
The Orioles’ acquisition of Weeks, who had primarily played second base through his career, could also signal the end of longtime Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts’ time in Baltimore. The Orioles have expressed interest in re-signing Roberts, who is a free agent.
The Orioles also did not tender contracts to right-handed pitcher Eddie Gamboa and outfielder Jason Pridie. Both will come off the organization’s 40-man roster and become free agents.
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