We all know the story by now, the closer role for the Oakland Athletics has been a revolving door ever since the days when Dennis Eckersley departed. We’ve seen everyone from Billy Taylor to Arthur Rhodes, Jason Isringhausen to Octavio Dotel, Huston Street to Grant Balfour and everyone in between. We know Billy Beane places just enough value in the position to make sure the team has a pitcher with the ability to hold down the ninth inning, but oftentimes for not more than a couple years. Jim Johnson can add himself to the list now, and in all likelihood he’ll be every bit as short term as all the others. Johnson may have some striking similarities though to former Athletics closer Keith Foulke.
Most baseball fans will remember Keith Foulke as the man who recorded the final out of the 2004 World Series, the one that finally broke the Curse of the Bambino. The image of Foulke fielding the comebacker off the bat of Edgar Renteria, and softly tossing the ball into Doug Mientkewicz’s glove at first base before exulting and yelling “We won!” as he’s mobbed by his Red Sox teammates will go down in baseball history. For A’s fans, many will remember the excellent 2003 season Foulke had with the Athletics that earned him the contract with the Boston Red Sox in the first place.
Foulke had the best season of his career in 2003, saving 43 games and posting a 2.08 ERA. He saved the All-Star Game with battery-mate Ramon Hernandez (although if I remember correctly the final out was very Balfour-esque, meaning it was 3 feet from being a home run). He was a hired gun of sorts, and the chances of him staying in Oakland beyond 2003 were slim, especially when the Red Sox and their deep pockets were paying attention. He got a three-year deal in Boston, and pitched those three years before missing the 2007 season, and wrapping up his career back in Oakland in 2008 in a middle relief role. His career ended at age 35, because his body couldn’t hold up.
I say Jim Johnson may be a very similar case, not because I expect his career to flame out by his mid-30’s, but because I expect him to excel in Oakland, and get a payday from someone else because of it. Johnson and Foulke each had about the same level of experience, very similar ages, and each had established themselves as proven closers before joining Oakland. The move to acquire Johnson was not made with anything but 2014 in mind, and Billy Beane may very well let him walk next offseason without blinking an eye. But, if Jim Johnson leaves the Athletics and joins the Chicago Cubs in 2015, the billy goat might want to get his affairs in order.