The Padres took a gamble when they signed Josh Johnson to an $8 million deal this off-season. Generally, the thought was that he was a former dominant pitcher – and if he just returned to a fraction of his former self it would be a win. Combined with Petco’s recent history of turning pitchers around for the positive, there was definite excitement in the air as spring training began and Johnson trotted out a few decent outings.
That went down the drain quickly as Johnson was shut down in spring training with elbow soreness. The waiting game between that decision and the announcement that he would in fact undergo his second Tommy John surgery on April 24th seemed like a foregone conclusion. How often do the words “He’s going to see Dr. James Andrews” and “Tommy John Surgery” NOT go together? Not very often, unfortunately.
He does intend to come back, he told MLB.com recently. “Hopefully, I can come back,” he said. “I’ve done it before. So why not do it again?”
What is tricky about this of course is that this would be his second surgery. His first came in 2007 and he did rebound well in 2008 by making 14 starts and going 7-1. Historically it takes about a year and a half to come back from TJ2. The Padres hold a $4 million option for next year, but is it worth it? With some of the young arms on their way up the chain, will there be a place for him? After his first comeback season in 2008, he then made 33 starts in 2009 and the All-Star Game! So do the Padres spend $4M for a maximum of 14 starts, then hope to sign him cheap again to hopefully see him repeat a pattern he established 6 years ago? I don’t think so.
From a business perspective, I can’t see the Padres spending the $4 million on him next year. Sentimentality aside, truly he was not brought up by the Padres, and $4 million would be better spent on a reliever with a proven track record, or even better, a bat. If this was Jake Peavy, maybe the Padres do take a chance on the fan favorite for the upside. I could see Johnson going back to Florida perhaps as the team that groomed him for a sweetheart 2-year deal based heavily on incentives, knowing that he probably wouldn’t pitch until at least mid-season in 2015 and banking on a good 2016. More realistically, teams will wait and see if and when he does recover and hope for some stretch run help in 2015. A former Cy Young Award contender never goes out of style. How else could Mark Prior hang around without actually pitching in the major leagues? And you can’t forget Dontrelle Willis for that matter. There is always a chance, that is why we love baseball. For Josh Johnson though? That chapter in Padres’ history appears to be over before it ever officially began.