A closer look at the impending free agents who have the most riding on a return to form or a return to health in 2013.
Before last season, no one would have predicted that fragile White Sox starter Jake Peavy would earn a bigger contract at the end of the year than Angels workhorse Dan Haren. Peavy, entering his age-31 season, was coming off three injury-plagued and ineffective seasons in which he’d thrown a combined 320 1/3 innings with an above-league average ERA; Haren, also entering his age-31 season, was coming off his seventh consecutive 200-plus-inning campaign, having led the AL in starts and strikeout-to-walk ratio and finished seventh in Cy Young voting the season before.
But 2012 proved pivotal in determining the size of the contract that each impending free agent could command. Peavy picked the perfect time to find his form, avoiding the DL, topping 200 innings, and making the All-Star team for the first time since 2007. Haren had back problems and saw his sinker lose speed and his stats decline across the board. As a reward for his resurgence, Peavy got a two-year, $29 million extension from the Sox, while Haren had to settle for a one-year deal with the Nats at a slightly lower annual value.
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The Marlins follow up the salary-dump trade with a Juan Pierre signing. What each move tells us about the franchise.
Last season the Phillies found themselves choosing between Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednik for the last spot on the bench. For this I made fun of them. Picking between two old guys whose careers were pretty much over is like choosing between getting kicked in the junk or punched in the neck. Neither is desirable and in fact you’re better off without both. The Phillies, in their infinite wisdom, chose Pierre, and exiled Podsednik to Elbathe Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs Elba.
The funny part was that Podsednik did nothing in Triple-A and was essentially given to the Red Sox, where he suddenly remembered (learned?) how to hit. Pierre had been slated for the back of the Phillies bench, but due to injures, he ended up with over 400 plate appearances wherein he somehow managed the respectable batting line of .307/.351/.371. So much for making fun of them.
Josh Johnson's start against the Red Sox last night is a sign that he has recovered from his shoulder woes.
The Monday Takeaway
As the ESPN crew signed off from its Monday Night Baseball broadcast of the series opener between the Red Sox and Marlins, color man Rick Sutcliffe summed up the 4-1 Miami victory in four words: “Josh Johnson is back.”
Though Ozzie Guillen’s team won six consecutive Johnson starts between May 4 and May 30, the big right-hander struggled for two months to regain his dominant form of years past. His fastball velocity went in and out, and his command eluded him at times—such as the 2 2/3-inning, six-run clunker at Petco Park that, ironically, served as the springboard for the aforementioned winning streak.
The Marlins ace doesn't like to give up home runs.
Twelve starts into the season, Josh Johnson is yet to bedazzle us with a no-hit bid or double-digit strikeout game. If the season were to end tomorrow, all of the “There’s only one October” advertisements would become literal, and Johnson would finish with career-worst totals in earned run average and strikeout and hits allowed rates. Barring a historical run, Johnson is unlikely to take home the Cy Young award this season. But one thing about Johnson that remains as true now as ever is his resistance towards home runs.
Johan Santana and Josh Johnson turned back the clock in a vintage pitcher's duel on Tuesday.
The Tuesday Takeaway Josh Johnson missed most of the 2011 season because of inflammation in his right shoulder. Johan Santana was shelved for much of it while rehabbing from a torn capsule in his left one. But on Tuesday night in Queens, they decided to party like it was 2009.
The Marlins and Mets aces matched each other out for out, hit for hit, and run for run on a night that was supposed to be highlighted by Jose Reyes’ return to Citi Field. Instead, Reyes went an inauspicious 0-for-4, while Johnson and Santana stole the show.
Josh Johnson might actually be better than Verlander and Halladay, but it won't matter if he's hurt again.
Last season, the Phillies had it easy in the NL East. Only in the AL Central, where the Tigers were the lone .500 team and finished 15 games ahead of the second-place Indians, did a division winner enjoy a wider margin of victory than the 13 games that separated the Phillies from the Braves. However, the defending division winners appear vulnerable this season, and no NL East team can expect to cruise to a title.
Baseball Prospectus projects the division’s first- and last-place teams to be separated by just nine games, the second-smallest range after the NL West’s eight-game differential. Things look even tighter at the top, where the Phillies and Marlins are currently projected to tie, with the Braves behind by a game. In no other division is a third-place team projected to finish fewer than four games behind the leader.
The Marlins have an ace in the hole that could help them scoop the NL East title
When Josh Johnson takes the mound tonight and throws the first stateside pitch of the 2012 regular season, he will be making his third consecutive appearance as the Marlins’ Opening Day starter. The difference is that, for the first time in those three seasons, Johnson’s team projects to be a contender.
The 28-year-old Johnson had his 2011 campaign cut short by a shoulder injury after just nine starts and watched the Marlins sink to a last-place finish in the NL East at 72-90—five games behind the fourth-place Mets and 30 games behind the division-champion Phillies. But the tide has turned, and PECOTA sees a level playing field likely to result in a three-horse race between the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves for the top spot.
Josh Hamilton and Chase Utley are restored to active duty, Dan Johnson and Russell Branyan reach their expiration dates, and J.P. Howell and Lenny DiNardo both re-emerge after long absences, though almost certainly with different results.
Do early-season phenoms fade once the rest of the league learns to stop giving them pitches to hit?
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