Free-agent starter Josh Johnson signed a one-year deal with the San Diego Padres, sources told Yahoo Sports, hoping to rebound from a disastrous 2013 and regain the form that made him one of the National League's best starters.
The deal is worth a guaranteed $8 million and includes another $1.25 million if Johnson reaches 26 starts. Sources told Yahoo Sports that beyond the standard deal, a unique clause exists: Should Johnson make fewer than seven starts in 2014, the Padres would hold a $4 million club option for 2015, similar to Boston owning a league-minimum option on John Lackey for 2015 because of his Tommy John surgery. ESPN.com first reported the base terms of Johnson's deal.
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Johnson, 29, is a two-time All-Star and led the NL in ERA in 2010. Arm problems have hampered him throughout his career, and they limited him to 16 starts with the Toronto Blue Jays last year. San Diego provides an opportunity to rehabilitate his career in the game's most pitcher-friendly stadium, Petco Park.
The Padres likewise can reap the benefits of augmenting an already-deep rotation with a potential top-flight starter. Where Johnson will slot among Padres pitchers depends on his return from an Oct. 1 surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow, but with Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, Eric Stults, Tyson Ross, Robbie Erlin, Burch Smith and the rehabbing Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland, both returning from Tommy John surgery, San Diego could head into the year with a surfeit of starters – or perhaps dangle one in a trade for a bat.
Johnson, who passed his physical with the Padres, went into 2013 with high hopes for free agency and ended it without mustering a qualifying offer from his former team, the Toronto Blue Jays. With no draft-pick compensation attached, Johnson drew a wide range of interest from teams including San Francisco, Colorado, Pittsburgh and the Chicago White Sox.
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The upside for the Padres is enormous. Should Johnson recapture his success of years past – his career ERA is 3.40, even after the unsightly 6.20 last year – he becomes one of three things: an important piece of a contending San Diego team, a great trade chip come July or a player worthy of a qualifying offer who fetches San Diego a draft pick if he signs elsewhere.
All of that, of course, is contingent on Johnson's arm returning to form, which is no guarantee. While he'll be recovered from the bone-spur surgery by spring training, Johnson missed all of May last season with right triceps inflammation, lost significant time to a shoulder injury in 2011 and had Tommy John surgery in 2007.
In his three most recent healthy seasons (2009, 2010 and 2012), Johnson went 34-25 with a 3.13 ERA, 542 strikeouts in 584 innings, a 3.17-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed just 35 home runs. Even with Johnson's groundball predilection – his career rate is 47.1 percent – his stuff should play well in Petco as long as it's closer to the 95-mph fastball of his 2009-10 seasons than the 92.8 mph he averaged over the last two years.
The 6-foot-7 Johnson is coming off a four-year deal worth $39 million signed in 2010, when he was with the Florida Marlins, the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2002 out of Jenks, Okla.