Johnson eager to join talented A's bullpen
Acquired from Baltimore for Weeks, closer sees similarities to 2012 O's corps
OAKLAND -- Saying goodbye to the only organization he's ever known hasn't been easy for Jim Johnson, who is joining the A's as part of a trade on Monday that sent Jemile Weeks and a player to be named to Baltimore.
At the forefront of the All-Star closer's worries is his Florida-based family. But less than 24 hours after learning of his pending move, Johnson sounded eager to start work for an organization that's eyeing a third straight division title.
"I started looking at the team, and I'm excited," Johnson said Tuesday. "It's a team that's competitive and they're making more moves to be competitive."
Four moves in two days to be exact, including the acquisition of Johnson, who spent the first 13 years of his professional career in the Orioles' organization. The A's also added another setup man to their relief corps, trading for Padres righty Luke Gregerson in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith to help take some late-inning load off Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook.
Then there's Scott Kazmir, signed to a two-year deal to fortify Oakland's rotation, and speedy outfielder Craig Gentry, traded from Texas alongside right-hander Josh Lindblom for A's top outfield prospect Michael Choice and Minor League infielder Chris Bostick.
The A's are doing their best to convince Johnson he's in a good place.
"They picked up some pretty good players, so it looks like we're trying to build some excitement, and I'm excited to be a part of that," the closer said.
Johnson, 30 and entering his final season before free agency, has totaled 101 saves since 2012, though he blew nine of his 59 chances last season. Still, he maintained a 2.94 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP, striking out 56 and walking just 18 in 70 1/3 innings. That was an encore to his 2012 All-Star campaign, which included a 2.49 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP.
"Everyone talks about some of those blown saves he had last year," said Doolittle, "but at the end of the day, his body of work over the last two years is incredibly impressive."
Johnson takes over for free agent Grant Balfour, who is eyeing a multiyear deal elsewhere. The arbitration-eligible Johnson is expected to earn nearly $11 million in 2014, after taking home $6.5 million this year.
General manager Billy Beane sees it as a worthy gamble, particularly because of how frugal he can be in other areas.
"We have a very young, talented pitching staff, and it's relatively inexpensive compared to most pitching staffs, so we were able to spend where there was need, maybe more than people would think," Beane said. "You have a pool of money and use it the best way you can.
"You lose a guy like Grant, who was real good for us for three years, you'd like to find somebody to add to that role. Jim's an All-Star closer who has saved 50-plus games for two years, so it's foolish not to consider that. I thought we had a good bullpen last year, and I think these moves have a chance to make it even possibly better. The best way to help out your starting rotation is to fill up your bullpen."
"It's 101 saves in the last two years in the American League East, and that's impressive," added manager Bob Melvin. "He's battle-tested, a veteran guy that's proven himself."
The versatility of Oakland's relievers, which stand to forge perhaps the best 'pen in baseball, is endearing to Johnson, who likens the staff to Baltimore's one in 2012, when the Orioles made the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
"We had a lot of guys who could cover the last part of the game," Johnson said. "You weren't going to the same guy for the same inning every day. We joked that the bullpen is a team within a team, but that's the way it is. I think that this is going to be a fun group to put together."
Weeks, meanwhile, was never part of the A's 2014 plans. Oakland's former first-round Draft pick enjoyed a phenomenal rookie season, batting .303 with 22 stolen bases in just 97 games in 2011. But his offensive numbers quickly took a dive in 2012, and an August demotion to Triple-A Sacramento during that season effectively ended his time as a starter. He spent most of 2013 with the River Cats.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.