Watching new Oakland Athletics closer Jim Johnson collapse again Wednesday — his third poor outing in five appearances so far in this young season — it was pretty clear that A's manager Bob Melvin had no choice. He had to take the closer's role away from Johnson.
Not even his steep $10 million salary could buy Johnson job security after his disastrous start to the season. So Melvin did what needed doing Thursday, and demoted one of his team's splashy offseason acquisitions.
Johnson came in with a 4-2 lead Wednesday in the bottom of the ninth against the Minnesota Twins. He promptly gave up a single and two walks to load the bases with only one out. Another single plated a run and Johnson was sent to the showers while A's fans cursed his name once again. It's happened far too often considering the calendar still says April.
Johnson gave up two runs in the ninth and took a loss on opening day, then took another loss and blew a save two days later. After two relatively stable appearances, including his first save of the season, Johnson was back to train wreck status against the Twins. The A's were able to pull out an extra-innings win, thanks to a Derek Norris homer, but even a W wasn't enough to take the focus off Johnson. This is a guy who saved 50 games a year ago with the Baltimore Orioles, tied for the most in MLB, and who at the moment owns a 18.90 ERA.
For now, Johnson is "getting a break" from the closer's role, as the A's use their deep bullpen to go closer-by-committee. More from Jane Lee of MLB.com:
Manager Bob Melvin said Thursday morning he’s “going to give Jim a break” from the ninth inning and go with a closer-by-committee approach. Right-handers Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook and Dan Otero and lefty Sean Doolittle are all options.
“There’s no timetable,” Melvin said. “Let’s just get him straightened out. And we have plenty options. That’s the good thing about our team, our versatility. We’ll play it by ear based on how the game’s going, who’s available on that particular day.”
This probably wouldn't be such a big deal had the A's not acquired Johnson in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles this offseason and taken on his $10 million salary. That's not a huge amount of money if you're, say, the Dodgers. But for the frugal A's, that makes Johnson the second-highest paid player on the roster after Yoenis Cespedes.
The A's also let their previous closer Grant Balfour, who had a steady track record in Oakland and was a fan favorite, walk as a free agent in favor of Johnson.
This crash-and-burn eight games into the season is a good example of why the Orioles were just fine shipping Johnson to Oakland.
Closers have the most tumultuous job on the baseball field — they're great for a while, something happens and they break into pieces. Maybe they pull it together in a couple weeks, maybe a couple of years. To commit $10 million to someone in that role is always a gamble. Just ask the Phillies and their $13 million closer Jonathan Papelbon.
The A's are usually pretty savvy about their gambles and they usually land on the right side of them. There's still a lot of time for this one to turn around, but for now, it looks like general manager Billy Beane made a $10 million whiff.
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