I Hope You Know This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record: How Bad Was Josh Johnson for the Blue Jays?

Jonathan Moore

Josh Johnson received a contract for 2014 with the San Diego Padres for $8M. If Johnson makes fewer than seven starts, the Padres will get a team option of $4M. This looks like good value for the Padres. It can't possibly be worse value than the Blue Jays got from Johnson. This article estimates what that value was.

Now that Josh Johnson has signed with the Padres, we can finally, completely close the book on him. Hopefully the Padres get better value out of Johnson than the Blue Jays did. Considering the unmitigated disaster that Johnson was for the Jays, it'd be hard to imagine him working out worse. Let's compare the impact of the Johnson deal to the impact of the Vernon Wells contract. Now, this only looks at the direct impacts on the Jays; since Alex Anthopoulos moved Vernon's heavily backloaded contract before the total collapse Vernon's seen the past couple years, impact of Vernon's contract on the Jays drastically understates the impact of the contract on the whole.

For each player, there are generally three elements of value exchange: 1) cost of acquisition; 2) cost of salary obligation; and 3) value of play.

The Vernon Wells Contract

Cost of Acquisition: the Jays already had Vernon. If they'd let him walk, he'd have been a Type A free agent and netted them two picks. The value of those picks is not exact, but likely somewhere between $5M and $7.5M. Total: $7.5M.

Cost of Salary Obligations: The three seasons the Jays were responsible for the Vernon Wells deal cost $40M, plus the $5M that they paid to the Angels to move him. Total: $45M.

Value of Play: According to FanGraphs, he was worth around $+20M during that time.

Other factors: The value of two years of team control for Mike Napoli should partially offset that (Napoli provided around $20M during those two season). Unfortunately, they flipped Napoli for Francisco who provided about zero surplus (including the comp pick). Still, I'm not going to include Napoli's value here because the Jays didn't actually get anything from him besides Francisco and the pick, the total value of which was about equivalent to Francisco's salary.

Estimated Value of Wells contract to Jays: $20M - $45M - $7.5M = Total: $-32M

(N.B., of course, that this does not include the immense surplus value he provided before signing that contract.)

The Josh Johnson Trade

Cost of Acquisition: Johnson was acquired in a trade. Let's try and put a value on those players the Jays gave up. Well, considering that the John Buck, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Emilio Bonifacio contracts added up to about zero surplus value, a somewhat conservative estimate might be that Johnson was worth only half of the $57.5 M of surplus value that the Jays gave up in MLB players and none of the value of their prospects, $28.75M.

Cost of Salary Obligations: Josh Johnson was signed for $13.75M last season.

Value of Performance: FIP is kinder to Johnson but, for argument's sake, let's go by rWAR, which models his value based on the actual number of runs he gave up rather than what would be predicted by his walks, strikeouts, home runs, and innings pitched. By rWAR, Johnson was markedly below replacement-level. Total: $-7.25M

Estimated Value (by rWAR) of Johnson acquisition to Jays: $-7.25M - $28.5M -$ 13.75M = Total: $-59M

Now, wins are worth a lot more on the free agent market than when Wells signed his contract back before the 2007 season. Adjusting for that inflation, the negative value of the Wells deal would be about eight wins. The negative value of the Johnson trade is approximately 11 wins. Of course, don't forget that we're being pretty conservative in our estimate of the cost of his acquisition. If you assume that all the surplus value of the players was tied up in Josh and the prospects the Jays included covered the combined value of Reyes, Buehrle, Bonifacio, and Buck, then the negative value of the Johnson trade is 16 wins.

The silver lining is that, because the Padres signed him as a free agent, Johnson can't possibly hurt them as much as he hurt the Jays. Assuming they pick up his $4M option, he'll be paid a total of $12M. To provide $-47M in value, Johnson would have to be worth a combined -8.5 WAR over the next two years. Of course, to provide that kind of value, he'd likely have to pitch too much in 2014 for the Padres to have an option.

Unfinished business, Josh? Yep, you could say that.

Thanks to the Violent Femmes, whose "Kiss Off" inspired today's title.

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