Posted on November 30, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Los Angeles Angels killed two birds with one stone on Tuesday. In a trade with the Atlanta Braves, the Angels acquired both relief pitcher Jim Johnson and $1.21 million in international spending money. As part of the trade, the Braves received left-handed pitcher Justin Kelly. Johnson figures to help the Los Angeles bullpen in 2018 while the extra money will help the Angels in their pursuit of Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani.
The 34-year old Johnson is coming off a rough season with the Braves in 2017. In 61 appearances, he was 6-3 with a 5.56 ERA. Johnson managed to convert just 22 of 31 save opportunities, eventually losing his job as the team’s closer.
However, Johnson’s track record suggests he can bounce back in 2018. He had several productive seasons with the Orioles during the early part of the decade. He also posted a 3.06 ERA with the Braves in 2016. At a cost of $4.5 million, he’s not a bad bounce-back candidate for the Angels. With the current cost of relievers on the open market, Johnson’s salary is quite reasonable.
The Angels have already seen Yusmeiro Petit, one of their best relievers last season, sign with the Oakland A’s. Adding Johnson can help shore up the back end of the Los Angeles bullpen alongside Blake Parker, Cam Bedrosian, and Keynan Middleton. Johnson could even be a candidate to serve as the team’s closer, a role current free agent Bud Norris filled for much of last year. With the Angels more focused on adding offense, they may not be able to spend on a frontline relief pitcher this winter.
Of course, the Angels also added international bonus money to spend on Ohtani. With the additional funds, the Angels can offer Ohtani the 7th-highest signing bonus of any major league team. Ohtani is not expected to make his decision based on money alone. However, it certainly can’t hurt the Angels to be able to offer him a competitive signing bonus. Several other teams have made similar trades to increase their international spending allotment with Ohtani in mind.
Meanwhile, the Braves freed themselves of Johnson’s $4.5 million salary for 2018. Reports indicate that Atlanta will make a serious effort to sign one of the top closers available on the free-agent market. Getting rid of Johnson’s salary gives the Braves a little more flexibility to pursue a closer like Greg Holland or Wade Davis. The Braves still have Arodys Vizcaino as a backup plan in case they can’t sign an established closer this winter. Atlanta also adds Kelly to the mix of potential relievers this season.
The Braves are also unlikely to need the international spending money they sent to the Angels. MLB recently dropped the hammer on Atlanta for violations committed by former GM John Coppolella. The Braves have restrictions for how much they can spend on a particular player for the next two signing periods.
On paper, this is a relatively minor trade. However, it does provide clarity on the priorities of each team this offseason. The Angels are clearly gearing up for a shot at landing Ohtani. Meanwhile, the Braves are definitely interested in bringing a top-flight closer to Atlanta.