Jim Johnson will be back in 2014, Duquette says

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).

Those two seasons combined, Duquette said, show that the 30-year-old Johnson 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 [2011], and over the last two years, he has [99],” 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 without having an established closer. 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 [in a 3-2 win over Toronto]. 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 starting pitcher, could join the rotation at some point. Duquette said discussing Johnson’s specific role would be “for another day,” but when pressed about whether Johnson would be considered for the rotation, Duquette said, “Not really. He’s established himself as one of the top closers in the game.”

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