Josh Johnson has yet to pitch his first regular-season game for the Toronto Blue Jays and the meter is already running. It started, in fact, before the mountainous right-hander even made it out of spring training.
Adam Wainwright signs a five-year, $97.5-million (U.S.) contract extension with the St. Louis Cardinals on the eve of the regular season, Justin Verlander says, yes, thanks, to a seven-year, $180-million contract with the Detroit Tigers, and before that, Zack Greinke inks a six-year, $147-million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Felix Hernandez extends with the Seattle Mariners at seven years, $175-million.
Johnson’s résumé isn’t as weighty as the aforementioned – right now, he’s trying to recapture the consistency and maybe even regain the reputation he had in 2009-10, when he pitched a total of 392 2/3 innings and had everybody saying he was one of the next bright things – but unlike those peers he will be a free agent after this season. And unless Roy Halladay’s health deteriorates to the point where the Philadelphia Phillies decline his option, the only other starting pitcher of significance on the market could be Tim Lincecum, who is in the middle of his own repair job with the San Francisco Giants.
Johnson’s task in Friday’s start against the Boston is simple: he must stick it to the Red Sox and turncoat manager John Farrell. Not much pressure, really – just the pride of a fan base and city that circled the date the second Farrell stiffed the Blue Jays to pursue his “dream job.”
Toronto doesn’t know much about playoffs, but it carries a grudge better than any place, and few partings have been as poorly-handled as Farrell’s. There isn’t a person in this city who doesn’t believe Farrell started planning his exit strategy the second the Red Sox made the loopy decision to hire Bobby Valentine.
Make no mistake: This will be personal. It should be personal.
But there is something wider at work here for the 6-foot-7 Johnson, who was the primary target of Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos when discussions started with the Miami Marlins leading to the 12-player deal that altered the perception of the Blue Jays maybe even as far away as New England.
Johnson, who underwent Tommy John elbow ligament tendon transplant surgery in 2007, and was limited to nine starts in 2011 due to shoulder inflammation, should be aiming for the motherlode this winter. If he can stay healthy and become a force in the American League East, he’ll have teams falling all over themselves in the winter, just ahead of the first season in which baseball’s new television contracts increase the per team share of TV revenue to $52-million from $27-million.
There is a sense the game is getting used to managing all this extra money. Boundaries are shifting – New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano fired Scott Boras as his agent in his walk year, for heaven’s sake, replacing him with CAA with arm-twisting from Jay-Z and his ROC Sports agency – and teams are fixated on extensions.
The good news is that according to Johnson’s agent, Matt Sosnick, the flurry of deals hasn’t altered his client’s perception of his place with the Blue Jays. They are as open now to discussing a contract extension at any point this season as they were when the trade with the Marlins was made.
Both sides want to get a sense of where each other’s comfort level is – the team with the player, the player and his family with the city and team – and Sosnick is aware of the Blue Jays aversion to five-year deals. Anthopoulos, for his part, reminded his questioner Wednesday that the team signed slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $29-million extension on July 12 (with a club option for a fourth year).
Here’s the deal, though: What if the Blue Jays see Johnson as a Jake Peavy (two years, $29-million with the Chicago White Sox) instead of a Wainwright?
“Generally, if we want to keep a player we’ll do it,” Anthopoulos said. “We signed Edwin three months before he was going to become a free agent. Thing is, where our payroll level is right now and with the commitments we have, it’s not as much of a concern for us to get things done early.”
Johnson’s going to get a king’s ransom from somebody. But he’ll never get more love from a crowd than he’ll get Friday if he exacts some payback.