Josh Johnson NoMaas Yankees Spinning Wheel

Fangraphs CrowdSourcing Contract: 2 years / $19.9 million, 10.0 million AAV

In a fiscal environment where the Yankees need to be uncharacteristically creative to adhere to the Hal-Cap™, and pitchers like Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco are asking for $80 mil-$100 mil, we look to a potential bargain in 29-year old Josh Johnson.

The book on Johnson has always been: ace stuff, but often injured. In this past season with Toronto, he was limited to only 81 innings due to tricep, forearm, and blister issues. He also had minor elbow surgery in October to remove a bone spur. Combine all of these health issues with an abysmal 2013 ERA of 6.20, and you are probably thinking “why the hell should the Yankees sign him?”

Reason #1 is his 2013 ERA is nowhere even close to his true talent level. In an injury-shortened season, he still whiffed 9.18 hitters per nine innings, which would have ranked 7th in the AL over the full campaign. His K/BB of 2.77 was above his career average of 2.71. His peripherals were fine and were reflected in an xFIP of 3.58.

The high ERA was purely a product of a freakishly high and non-repeatable HR/FB rate of 18.5% (8.2% career average), an inflated BABIP of .358 (.302 career average), and a low left-on-base rate of 63.3% (74.2% career average). These can all be chalked up in the flukey column.

Reason #2 is Johnson doesn’t have much financial leverage. With injuries and a superficially high ERA, he won’t be able to command big money and/or years. The consensus is that he’ll receive a 1- or 2-year deal with low guaranteed money and high incentives. However, since everyone is thinking that, it may take more guaranteed money to land him than expected — but still, the dollars will pale in comparison to other pitchers on the market due to his aforementioned problems.

Reason #3 is Johnson is a #2 starter, at worst, when healthy. He has a career 3.40 ERA/3.32 FIP/3.57 xFIP. For you sabr-dorks, that’s an 82 ERA-/80 FIP-/86 xFIP-. His velocity is down from his earlier years in the league, but he still pumps his fastball at an average of 93 mph. He also pitched 191 innings in 2012, so it’s not like he’s decrepit.

Reason #4 is, as stated in the outset of the post, the Yankees need to be creative if they want to compete and get under the Hal-Cap™. Johnson has more upside than arguably any other pitcher in free agency. If the Yankees can get him on short money, it’s a risk they should take.