Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was definitive Friday afternoon when asked whether closer Jim Johnson would be tendered a contract for 2014.
"Oh, yeah," Duquette said.
Johnson, who leads the American League in saves (48) and blown saves (nine), will be in his final year of arbitration this winter. In February, he agreed to a $6.5 million contract after leading the majors in saves with 51 (in 54 chances).
His past two seasons, Duquette said, show that Johnson, 30, is deserving of being considered part of the Orioles' core.
"Jimmy has done something historic in terms of the number of games he has saved over the last couple years. He has established significant value by doing that in consecutive years. He came into the job last year and I think he had nine saves in , and over the last two years, he has ," Duquette said. "I think that Johnson has established himself as a top closer in the big leagues when you look at the top savers in the league. He is right up there."
Duquette traditionally hasn't been a big believer in spending exorbitantly on closers, and Johnson's inexperience in the closer's role before 2011 seemingly supports the notion that a club can have some success at the position without having an established player there. But Duquette said he believes Johnson (3-8 with a 2.90 ERA in 72 games this season) has set himself apart.
"Jim Johnson's been consistent over those last two years," Duquette said. "He had a better year last year than he had this year, but he still had a good year this year. You could see the good stuff he had [Thursday] night when he closed the game out. I mean, he is healthy, he is strong, he is throwing good."
There has been some talk over the years that Johnson, who began his career as a starter, could return to the rotation at some point. Duquette said discussing Johnson's specific role would be "for another day."
But when pressed on whether Johnson would be considered for the rotation in 2014, Duquette said, "Not really. He's established himself as one of the top closers in the game."
Duquette talked with Boras
Agent Scott Boras, who represents several Orioles including Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen, Francisco Rodriguez and Zach Britton, was in Baltimore this week to meet with some of his clients.
Duquette said he had some preliminary discussions with Boras, but would not go into specifics.
"I talked to Scott when he was in town, obviously. … It was just an informal meeting," Duquette said. "We are turning our attention to having a good team next year."
Wieters and Davis are eligible for eligible for two more years and would not hit free agency until after the 2015 season. The organization would like them to remain with the club for years, and Duquette said one of his priorities is locking up the club's "core players." He said he had not yet engaged in any serious conversations about any of his players' contracts.
"That's a little early for that, but you know, we have made clear our intention to keep that core group together," Duquette said. "And we'll try and do that in the offseason."
Rodriguez, acquired from Milwaukee this July for minor league infielder Nick Delmonico, is a pending free agent. Chen is signed through 2014 with a team option for 2015, while Britton is not yet arbitration-eligible.
Other Duquette nuggets
Duquette spent several minutes talking to reporters before Friday's game. Here are his thoughts on several topics:
On the coaching staff and, in particular, the uncertain pitching coach position: "I think all those decisions, they're better left to when the season's over and they're all organizational decisions."
On failing to make the playoffs this season: "I think we're all disappointed when it ends before you have a chance to get in the tournament, get into the playoffs. So I'm sure we're all disappointed in the ending. But there's certainly some really good takeaways from the season, and that's what we're getting back from the fans."
On whether the club will look to add to its payroll via free agents in the offseason: "I'll talk about that next week. We're doing some more planning, and I'll have a better idea for you."
On how much retaining the current group will cost in payroll: "The core players have put together performances that will earn them significant raises. Last year, I think those raises were over $22 million."
On talking with manager Buck Showalter about offseason moves: "I'm sure we'll get together next week and talk."
Around the horn
Showalter said Chris Tillman remains the projected starter for Sunday's season finale. That could change, he said, if the game doesn't mean anything for the Boston Red Sox. … Showalter did not comment on the announcement that commissioner Bud Selig that he will retire in January 2015. But when asked whether he thought his former boss, Andy MacPhail, should be in the mix, Showalter said, "I certainly hope so. I would strongly recommend him." MacPhail has long been speculated as a potential candidate to replace Selig when he retires. … Triple-A Norfolk will be moving in its outfield fences next year, Showalter said. … Davis (sore right foot) was back in the lineup Friday after sitting out Thursday. … Showalter said he watched video Friday of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, 24, who is expected to be posted by his Rakuten Golden Eagles team. He is expected to be highly sought after if he pursues an MLB career.
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