04 December 2013

On Jim Johnson and Jemile Weeks

Jemile Weeks | photo - Keith Allison
As Orioles fans know by now, Jim Johnson was shipped to the Oakland Athletics on Monday night in exchange for second baseman Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later. Johnson, who has one arbitration-eligible year remaining, is projected to earn between $10-$11 million in 2014 -- a steep price to pay for just about any reliever, let alone a solid but not dominant one like Johnson. Keeping him for another season at that price didn't make much sense, and that money will likely be allocated elsewhere on a roster that needs some upgrades. But the A's see enough value in Johnson to pick up the tab. And that Billy Beane is sneaky or, at least, that is the general impression of all things that Beane does.

By himself, Weeks is not a great haul for even just a single year of Johnson's services. A former first-round pick in 2008 by the A's, Weeks, who turns 27 in January, has not been able to find the same kind of success he had in his rookie season in 2011. That year, he hit .303/.340/.421 (.333 wOBA) in 437 plate appearances while playing below average defense at second base (-4.2 UZR, -6 DRS). Weeks began the 2012 season as the A's opening day second baseman, but he was not good -- at all. In 511 plate appearances that season, Weeks hit .221/.305/.304 (.276 wOBA) and was worse defensively (-7.7 UZR, -14 DRS). In 2011, Weeks's numbers were aided by a .350 BABIP; in 2012, his BABIP was just .256. Also, despite swinging at fewer pitches outside the strikezone in 2012 (from 27.1% to 23.1%), he made much less contact on those same pitches out of the zone (from 78.7% to 71.8%).

2011 24 OAK 97 437 26 8 2 .303 .340 .421 .761 110
2012 25 OAK 118 511 15 8 2 .221 .305 .304 .609 73
2013 26 OAK 8 9 0 0 0 .111 .111 .111 .222 -37
3 Yrs 223 957 41 16 4 .258 .319 .357 .677 89
162 Game Avg. 162 695 30 12 3 .258 .319 .357 .677 89
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/3/2013.

In 2013, Weeks was banished to Triple-A; he only received nine major league plate appearances in what appears to be a courtesy September call up. In the minors, he batted .271/.376/.369 -- which is good but not great, especially in the power department. But he's always showcased the ability to get on base in the minors; his OBP skills simply have not translated to the major league level yet. And considering he doesn't have much power, is basically an average baserunner (0.3 baserunning runs above average in 223 career games) despite having good speed, and is not good defensively, his upside is extremely limited. So let's be clear: This is not a Chris Davis-type situation. Davis, acquired by Andy MacPhail along with Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara in July 2011, always had plus plus power -- if only he could make contact. No one bet on Davis's emergence coming, but it makes sense in hindsight that he found success once he started chasing fewer pitches and was able to harness his prodigious power. Other than a fluky-ish, BABIP-fueled offensive rookie season, Weeks hasn't been able to showcase any really useful skill at the major league level, nor has any high upside been attached to him from when he was drafted until now. And it's not like any great players were blocking Weeks's path last year. The primary A's second baseman in 2013 was Eric Sogard, with Alberto Callaspo and Adam Rosales playing sparingly as well.

So the O's and Dan Duquette are taking a chance on Weeks, and it's not impossible that he provides something of value to the Orioles at some point. But, again, he's not a great return by himself, which is why this deal may hinge on the player the Orioles will receive later.

As Jon discussed on Monday when speculating where Johnson would land, he hoped the Orioles were targeting teams that were willing to part with a couple of fringe B-level prospects with a low probability / high upside description. Maybe the PTBNL is one of those fringe prospects like Renato Nunez, who the A's signed in 2010 for 2.2 MM and profiles as a potential big bat with poor baserunning and fielding. Whoever that player is, we need to wait for that announcement before firming up our opinion on the probable value of this deal. But for now, what we know is that the Orioles opted for at least one low upside 4-A type player instead of perhaps someone with more potential. And aside from Nate McLouth and to a lesser extent Danny Valencia, those types of acquisitions haven't produced much for the O's. Sometimes it's better to go with the unknown lottery ticket, if it's available, than the guy who we mostly know what he is.

It's also worth wondering if the O's were willing to include some cash along with Johnson if they would have been able to get a better player in return. But that will be something else to discuss once the PTBNL is announced and after the O's finish making their offseason moves.  In the end, the Orioles will likely get what Johnson was worth. The Athletics figure at one year Johnson is worth the same that Joe Nathan is getting per year on a two-year contract. They also decided to pass on other interesting arms that might cost less (e.g., John Axford, Grant Balfour, Edward Mujica, Fernando Rodney, and Brian Wilson) without having to throw in two minor league players.  In other words, the Athletics consider Johnson to be a very talented player and to pay him as an elite closer. That put the Orioles in a position to get something back from at least them, maybe the Dodgers, maybe others. It would certainly be interesting to know what we cannot: how far the Athletics and others were willing to go in offering high-upside players?

Quick note: Jim Johnson is a class act. That's evident just by reading his quotes on playing in Baltimore and how the team changed these last few years. The Depot wishes Johnson, one of the O's few homegrown talents over the last decade-plus, much success moving forward.

Jon Shepherd contributed to this post.


Matt Kremnitzer said...

I left out Miguel Gonzalez, who should also be listed along with McLouth and Valencia.

Unknown said...

I have to assume that there was no interest in acquiring JJ.

The Yankees have Rivera retiring and could certainly afford 10 Million per Year.

As we all observed, JJ had a meltdown in the later part of 2013 and became a liability.

Apparently, other teams saw this as well and shied away despite his 50 saves.

Jon Shepherd said...

Johnson had a rough May. He was pretty solid the rest of the year.


He is a very good reliever.

Unknown said...

Acquiring 4A players in deals is a bad idea. Much better to get lower-level prospects instead.


Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter.

Also, if your argument is that playing low-budget jeopardy hasn't worked, you should probably at least also include T.J. McFarland and Ryan Flaherty as useful guys acquired for free.

Unknown said...

I don't have information to support this, but based on the history of similar deals I am inclined to think that the PTBNL is either a Rule 5-eligible player who both teams hope go unpicked or a player who will be determined based on Johnson's performance.

Jon Shepherd said...

It is a rule 5 issue. Performance based clauses must be resolved within 6 months of deal.

Jon Shepherd said...

We mentioned differences with Davis in the article.

Unknown said...

If Weeks succeeds here, I have no doubt that you'll dismiss it as "he was a former first-round pick and always had plus speed -- if only he could increase his contact rate."

Jon Shepherd said...

You need to read the site more often.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

McFarland and Flaherty were both rule 5 picks. I'm not sure why anyone would have a problem with picking up players that way.

Why do people keep comparing Jemile Weeks to Chris Davis? I've seen that at least a few times. Perhaps try reading the article above, in which both players are mentioned.

Again, no one here really has that big of a problem with the trade. And it's not completed yet, so who knows for sure. But I don't think any A's fan is really concerned about losing Weeks.

Unknown said...

I tend to prefer Baseball Prospectus and similar sites, where they define their terms consistently and don't adjust the player pools and sample sizes to support a predetermined conclusion.

Jon Shepherd said...

Nice. I am glad you may have read my work at Baseball Prospectus. Stuart has written there too.

You might want to try to reread this discussion and think about what I am writing. My process is very consistent and I ask that from my writers as well.

Liam said...

I was fairly satisfied with this trade, largely because I agree that $10 million is way to much money for Jim Johnson. But I also think Weeks has some upside that might bypass statistical analysis.

From what I understand, the A's tried to significantly alter Weeks' approach at the plate to get him to walk more, which he did in 2012, but obviously it backfired because his average dropped 80 points. After he made some enemies within the organization who felt that he was uncoachable and wasn't putting in enough effort. He seems like a guy that could really use a change of scenery and a fresh opportunity to resurrect his career- obviously the talent is there but he hasn't been able to harness it the past couple years. Obviously there isn't Chris Davis upside here but I wouldn't be shocked to see him turn into a serviceable second baseman.

The Orioles seem to have developed great organizational infield coaches and seem to encourage guys to be aggressive at the plate, which could be a match for Weeks' skills.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Interesting. It's certainly possible for Weeks to become serviceable, though I'm not sure I'd bet on it.

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