When the Orioles traded Jim Johnson over the offseason, they were banking that he would not be worth the arbitration salary he was sure to command. The passing of time has proven them right, though I won't be holding my breath for the various media outlets who derided the "salary dump" to say they were wrong. Johnson has been a complete and total disaster for Oakland, who finally designated him for assignment on Thursday afternoon.
For better or worse - and it was, occasionally, quite worse - the Orioles would not have been where they ended up in both 2012 and 2013 without Johnson. He saved 101 games across those two seasons, which is still an impressive feat, even if it doesn't, and shouldn't, automatically mark him as one of the greatest closers of all time. Johnson holds the #1 and #2 seasons in club history for saves (51 and 50 in 2012 and 2013, respectively) and his 122 saves with the club are second only to Gregg Olson.
With an expected $10 or $11 million salary coming for this season, it was time to move on, though the Orioles tendered him a contract rather than just release him. He ended up being traded to Oakland for Jemile Weeks. No doubt Oakland GM Billy Beane hoped to capitalize on one season of a reliever who, while high priced, would not require any long term expenditure.
It was not a bad theory to try, but whatever magic Johnson may have had in the past was completely gone starting from the beginning of the season. Johnson had two losses before Oakland's first series was complete. He was quickly removed from the closer role there and continued to be terrible. Across 38 games, where he was mostly used as a garbage time reliever, he allowed a 6.92 ERA. That's so bad it hurts me just to read.
The final straw for Oakland was a game Wednesday where Johnson came into a game where the team had a seven run lead, faced four batters, retired none, and ended up with three earned runs. We saw those kinds of games in Baltimore, the ones where he just couldn't get anyone out. That was his whole season in Oakland, who ended up paying that $10 million for this.
The Orioles don't exactly get the last laugh, since the money they saved on Johnson probably went to Ubaldo Jimenez, but that's life. Maybe it went to Nelson Cruz instead. That sounds better, so let's go with that.
One big problem for Johnson is that his command deteriorated in Oakland. If the Orioles imagine that they could recapture some of his past magic, it wouldn't be shocking to see him return once he clears waivers. That would mean that Johnson could be had for the pro-rated portion of the major league minimum, rather than the rest of the $10 million he's due from the Athletics.
Probably best to keep the past in the past, though. Jim, I hope you invested that $10 million wisely, because it doesn't look like you're going to get a whole lot more out of professional baseball.