It's often said (and often true) that the Baltimore Orioles cannot develop pitching prospects. Jim Johnson, who last night was traded to the Oakland Athletics, did not fit that narrative. Sure, he couldn't make it as a starter (despite rumors nearly every spring that he might give the rotation another try), but he grew into a shutdown relief pitcher who provided the Orioles with quite a bit of value in the eight seasons he pitched for the Orioles.
Johnson was drafted out of high school in the fifth round of the 2001 amateur draft. Here are the players the Orioles took ahead of him in earlier rounds: Chris Smith, Mike Fontenot, Bryan Bass (not to be confused with Brian Bass), Dave Crouthers, Rommie Lewis.
While most of Johnson's minor league experience was as a starter, that never seemed to be in the cards for him at the big league level. By the time he got to AA and AAA ball, his numbers began to slip, and the bullpen was his destiny. After two cups of coffee in 2006 and 2007, JJ came up for good in 2008.
JJ never struck out a lot of batters, with a career rate of just six strikeouts per nine innings, but his value has always been in his sinking fastball that averages about 93-94 mph and his curveball. When he's on with those pitches he's straight up filthy, and just a joy to watch.
Johnson was a big part of that 2012 magical season, and he caused a lot of heartbreak with his 11 blown saves in 2013. Those blown saves might be how some of us remember JJ, but I'll think of him fondly. I really wish that there had been a way for the Orioles to keep him, but it just didn't seem to be in the cards. JJ will get at least $10 million in arbitration this year, which as we all know is a lot for a relief pitcher. I wish the Orioles just had enough money to keep him and still improve the team, but all reports is that they needed to clear salary to sign more players.
They just cleared nearly eight figures off the books and lost a valuable member of the bullpen in the process, so they better pony up and get something with that money or I will not be a happy camper. But as long as this improves the team in the long run, I will be satisfied.
I wish JJ the best of luck in Oakland (or wherever Billy Beane flips him), and I'll miss him if no one steps up to take his place. Watching a good team has made me less sentimental for individual players, so we'll have to wait and see what Dan Duquette does next before I decide if I'm unhappy with this move.