In the Toronto Blue Jays’ ideal world, Josh Johnson will make himself a highly prized trade commodity over these next six weeks, starting Monday against the Colorado Rockies at Rogers Centre.
The 29-year-old right-hander’s name is being tossed around freely with the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline in view.
A pending free agent, Johnson has yet to win a game since being obtained from the Miami Marlins. Entering the season, the Blue Jays might reasonably have expected 15 wins from a healthy Johnson but he missed April 22 to June 4 with a strained triceps.
If Johnson can deliver on the promise demonstrated during spring training, his trade value could be heightened considerably. At the same time, by showing himself to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, he could help the Jays continue their climb back into the playoff race.
Jim Bowden, the former Cincinnati Reds general manager, predicts on his ESPN blog there’s a a 70-per-cent chance Johnson will be dealt by the deadline. Bowden also supports the logic of a Mark Buehrle-for-Andre Ethier trade, which may explain why he’s writing rather than running a baseball team these days. Ethier, signed to a $96-million (U.S.) contract through 2017, plays right field for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the same position occupied by right fielder Jose Bautista. He is hitting .244 with five homers this season.
With four straight wins over the Texas Rangers, the Blue Jays have won eight of the past 10 games. While trailing American League East-leading Boston by 8 1/2 games, the club is now just 5 1/2 games behind in the wild-card standings. They outscored the Rangers 24-3 for their first sweep in Arlington, Tex., resembling the team many observers expected to see.
Over a 10-game span entering Sunday, they’d gained three games on the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, yet just one on the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles – illustrating the ease of short-term ascension in the standings while simultaneously, the difficulty of tracking down multiple teams within the division. The Jays are 12-20 in the AL East.
“We all knew the talent was here, and it was just a matter of how bad would it get before they made changes,” infielder Mark DeRosa told reporters in Arlington on Sunday.
Having dug themselves into a hole in April-May, the Jays are reversing trends. Adam Lind, given regular playing time primarily in the cleanup slot, is hitting nearly .400 over his past 30 games. After much unproductive experimentation with other players, Melky Cabrera solidified the leadoff spot in the batting order with shortstop Jose Reyes out. Bautista and especially Edwin Encarnacion have recovered from April hitting doldrums as impactful run producers. The bullpen has performed among the major leagues’ most imposing shut-down units over the last six weeks, and the rotation is coming around.
Reinforcements are on their way. Reyes (ankle) and starting pitcher Brandon Morrow (forearm strain) are on rehabilitation assignments, starting pitcher Ricky Romero is in the process of rediscovery at Triple-A Buffalo, and starter J.A. Happ (60-day disabled list) is eligible to return around the all-star break.
Injuries have opened opportunities in the rotation. Esmil Rogers, 27, signed by the Rockies 10 years ago as a free agent, and Chien-Ming Wang, signed out of the Yankees farm system last Tuesday, allowed one run in a combined 14 innings in Texas.
Buehrle and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey are also rumoured targets by teams in need of pitching. The Jays have contract control over both players, whereas Johnson is not signed for 2014.
The San Francisco Giants are looking for rotation help. GM Brian Sabean, while known to be wary of dealing for pitchers with health concerns, watched Johnson pitch impressively in San Francisco on June 9. He threw seven innings and allowed one earned run.
Johnson may be expendable if the Jays determine that he is unlikely to re-sign. He’s dealt with Tommy John elbow ligament-transplant surgery and a shoulder strain in the past six seasons, achieving the 30-start mark three times in that span. If he can show his 2010-like prowess (11-6, 2.30 earned-run average) over these next six weeks, he could help the Jays become a playoff contender, while boosting chances of reaping millions more as a free agent.