With obtaining closer Jim Johnson from the Orioles for second baseman Jemile Weeks and Minor League catcher David Freitas in December, the A’s front office basically assured fans they had seen its last Coliseum Balfour Rage when reliever Grant Balfour was sent out to pitch the ninth inning in Game 5 of the ALDS in their 3-0 loss.
Days after the Johnson trade it appeared the A’s and O’s had switched closers when Balfour reportedly signed a free agent contract with Baltimore on Dec. 20. That deal fell through when Balfour failed his physical for what are now reported to be wrist and knee concerns and not his shoulder as originally reported by outlets.
Johnson, who comes to the A’s as its touted closer, had 51 and 50 saves with the Orioles the last two seasons, leading the American League both seasons. Although Johnson in 2012 recorded 51 saves in 54 attempts, his nine blown saves in 2013 were the highest for all major league teams.
Johnson, who doesn’t have the heat that Balfour had, doesn’t get as many strikeouts as other MLB closers but produces a lot of ground balls with his mid-90s slider which should result in double plays if he comes in with runners on base. The spacious Oakland Coliseum should also work to his advantage in late innings.
A free-agent at the end of the season, Johnson just filed for arbitration on Jan 14 and will likely be paid in the $10 million range for 2014. He should function well in the closer role before likely heading off to free agency at the end of the 2014 season or becoming trade bait in July if the A’s are out of contention.
Toward the end of the 2013 season, many felt Billy Beane wouldn’t seek out a closer after Balfour became a free agent. With set-up men Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle in the wings, many thought one of them would be shoulder tapped to become 2014’s closer. When Balfour had September struggles, Doolittle was used to close out some games toward the end of the 2013 season.
Cook, who closed some games in 2012, throws in the mid-90s and had a lower ERA than Doolittle in 2013 but he also struggled against left-handed batters last season. If Cook can manage lefties better this year, he may become the closer if Johnson cannot successfully adapt to his new surroundings.
Even though Johnson has a large role to fill, A’s fans can expect a triumphant corps of relievers having Doolittle, Cook and the recently obtained Gregerson as setup options in front of new closer Jim Johnson.