Two nights ago the Orioles traded closer Jim Johnson to the Athletics for 2B Jemile Weeks and a Player to be named later. This trade on its face appears simply to be a move to gain some payroll relief by the Orioles, a so called Salary Dump. In this context, I like the move. Paying someone who will pitch in 70 innings nearly 10% of your payroll is an asinine way to allocate sparse resources. They could have simply let Johnson go to free up the money but instead they got Jemile Weeks and a PTBNL.
After searching around on Twitter and the Orioles blogosphere I found that a lot of people we’re disappointed in the haul for Jim Johnson. I think Orioles fans may have overestimated Johnson’s value. There is a psychological phenomenon in which you believe your possessions to be better than someone else’s possessions—even if your possessions are the same or worse. I think that applies to Johnson’s misperceived value.
Johnson is a 29 year old reliever coming off of a down year with poor peripheral pitching stats and will be paid somewhere between between $10 to $11 million. That is a lot of bad to come with Johnson’s relative successes. Weeks isn’t exactly a great haul after having a poor 2012 major league campaign, but he is young, has upside, and is cost controlled for the next two seasons with three more arbitration years after that. That is about as good of a haul the Orioles were going to get if they did not want to take on any salary in a trade, which in some ways would have defeated the purpose of trading Johnson anyways.
|162 Game Avg.||162||695||624||78||161||30||12||3||41||28||12||52||100||.258||.319||.357||.677|
Breaking down Weeks’ 2012 season, I see a little hope that a fresh start could lead to better results for him. First, Weeks had a very low Batting Average on Balls in Play (BAPIP) in 2012 of .258. This indicates to me that he may have been rather unlucky in 2012. In particular if you combine that with his above average walk rate, 9.8%, and below average strikeout rate, 13.7% (amongst qualified 2012 batters) you see a batter that knows what pitches he wants to swing at. On top of that, Weeks swung at only 23.1% of pitches thrown to him that were outside of the strike zone, good for 12th lowest in the league in 2012. Also of note, Weeks swung below average on pitches in the zone as well as overall swing rate while still maintaining a top 30 contact rate. He swung at pitches he could make contact on. This shows me that Weeks knows how to take a pitch at the major league level (something many Orioles struggle with).
However, the problem Weeks faced in 2012 was making poor contact. He had a below average Line Drive Percentage (LD%) of 18.8% and a very high Groundball Percentage (GB%) of 49.5%. So while Weeks was making contact, it wasn’t very strong contact and groundballs tend to be made into outs more often than other types of batted balls. Also, Weeks has struggled defensively in his short career. However, that is a relatively small sample size for using UZR (the more innings played the more accurate UZR becomes) and most players become more efficient defensively as they come into their prime years as Weeks is going to.
So Weeks has his flaws, but he has some upside with the bat and the glove and already has a good eye at the plate. He will be great insurance and can play multiple positions. As of right now, if I ran the team, I would play him Opening Day at 2B. In my world, that is pretty good value for one year of a $10 million Jim Johnson.
However, looking at the trade in a vacuum all by itself is far too reductive to the process of running an organization. The Orioles are very clearly on a budget—whatever that budget may be and regardless of how you feel about that budget—and freeing up $10 million as well other payroll relief from their currently departing free agents gives the Orioles the ability to spend on the free agent market. This allows them to save prospects and grow their organization as they continue to fill holes in the rotation, the bullpen, left field, and designated hitter through free agency rather than having to do it through trade. All that being said, if the Orioles don’t make any significant moves in the free agent market, this will simply be the team being cheap and an outright salary dump of a pretty good player. It will be interesting to see the next moves in the game of chess that is the MLB offseason.