Last winter, Angels General Manager Billy Eppler looked like a hero. He brought in Japanese phenomenon pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani. He signed 2017 All-Star infielder Zach Cozart to play third and traded for 2016 Gold Glove winner and four-time All-Star second baseman Ian KInsler. He also shored up the outfield by re-signing Justin Upton, who hasn’t his less than 26 home runs in a season since 2012. Who would’ve thought that Los Angeles would end up sellers at the trade deadline?
The Halos (54-56) sit 15 games behind the division-leading Houston Astros and they are 10 back in the Wild Card race as of August 3. So far, the Halos have dealt two players who have expiring contracts, Kinsler and 2017 Gold Glove winning catcher Martin Maldonado. August 31 is the final trade deadline, and reliever Jim Johnson getting traded next makes the most sense.
If one looked at the 13-year veteran’s numbers early in the season, nothing about his performance would seem very attractive. He got off to a mediocre start, with a 4.30 ERA through the middle of May. But, Johnson has since turned it around and has even thrived since a rough May 17 outing. He has a 2.37 after that appearance and he has improved his WHIP from a poor 1.48 to a more respectable 1.28.
A big part of his success has been keeping the ball low and forcing grounders. This is vital to Johnson’s success because he does not strike many batters out. Since the start of June, he has struck out just eight hitters, but he has given up 24 grounders to just 15 fly balls, only one of which left the yard. Before June, he allowed 48 fly balls to 40 grounders, so since many of those hits in the air found outfield gaps, they aided in his rough start to 2018.
Johnson’s trade stock is at its highest right now. Over his last eight outings, he has given up just one run in nine innings and he has dropped his ERA by nearly a whole run since May to 3.40. Plus, he has an expiring deal, so teams won’t need to commit to a 35-year-old for multiple seasons.
There is certainly a market for a pitcher like Johnson, as many teams are looking to find stability in their bullpens for the postseason push. Perhaps Boston, who has the best record in baseball without having a stable set-up man, could find use for a veteran with late inning experience. Or possibly San Francisco, who at five games back of the division are fighting to stay in the race, could use Johnson’s services. The Giants have blown the most saves in the majors, having done it a staggering 23 times.