The topic has been brought up here at Camden Chat as well as around the Orioles blogOsphere, but I thought I'd throw my own thoughts into the mix on Jim Johnson.
The first thing is that I love Jim Johnson. The only Orioles that have been around longer than him are Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts, but in addition to being a familiar face, he is just a very good baseball player. Baseball at large recognized him this year when he finally became the official closer for the Orioles and had the most saves in the league with 51. But those of us who have been hanging around Birdland for awhile have known of his greatness for years.
Unfortunately for a team like the Orioles that, while not poor like the Rays or the Athletics, isn't rich like the Dodgers or Yankees, they're about to be priced out of the Jim Johnson market. Or they should be, if they're smart.
MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Jim Johnson will make $6.9M in 2013, in his second to last year before he becomes a free agent in 2015. That's a greater than $4M increase from his salary in 2012, and if he keeps on pitching well (which, unless he is injured, he most likely will), the Orioles will face another large bump for his final year of arbitration in 2015.
So, as much as I love Jim Johnson and his power sinker, his steady mound presence, and his role on the unexpected 2012 Orioles, they need to get rid of him while the getting is good. A player of his caliber with two years left on his contract could bring back a nice-sized haul (one that I won't speculate on, although perhaps some research on what players like him have gotten in the recent past is in order). If the O's wait until after this season to trade him, he'll be even more expensive and have only one year left on his contract, and then who knows what they could get for him?
As a mid-market team, the Orioles can't afford the luxury of overspending for relief pitchers, and no matter how good Johnson pitches out of the pen, the return on investment of a guy who appears in just one inning of a game isn't worth it. The Orioles have a number of guys who could step into his role in 2013, at the top of the list being the super filthy Darren O'Day, who is predicted to make $2.2M in arbitration, less than Johnson made in 2012.
The Orioles certainly have more money to spend than a team like the Rays, but they'd be wise to take a page out of Tampa Bay's book when it comes to building a bullpen. Their highest paid relief pitcher in 2012 was Kyle Farnsworth at $3.3M, and they don't sign their bullpen guys for more than one year.
Jim Johnson is good and he's a really fun guy to have on the team. But does a nearly $7M salary for him suit this team? Would he really be THAT much better than O'Day or Troy Patton or even Tommy Hunter (out of the pen only, please!). I don't think so. And with an extra $6M or so (taking out whatever the guy who replaces Johnson in the pen would make) to put into other places on the team, it could only be good news for the Orioles.