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Report: Orioles willing to listen to offers for closer Jim Johnson

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

Orioles closer Jim Johnson is on the trade block.
Orioles closer Jim Johnson is on the trade block. (USATSI)

According to ESPN's Buster Olney, the Orioles are willing to listen to trade offers for closer Jim Johnson. He is projected to earn approximately $10 million through arbitration in 2014 and the team is facing a pretty severe payroll crunch this winter.

Johnson, 30, managed to lead all of baseball in saves (50) and blown saves (nine) this past season. He really struggled at times in 2013 but never did lose his ninth inning job. All those saves -- he led baseball with 51 saves last year as well -- are why he's projected to earn such a high salary before becoming a free agent next offseason.

In 74 appearances this summer, Johnson pitched to a 2.94 ERA (143 ERA+) in 70.1 innings. His 7.2 K/9 was the second highest of his career and a considerable jump from 2011-12 (5.6 K/9). Johnson is a ground ball guy first and foremost, using his sinker to get a grounder 58.0 percent of the time in 2013 and 57.7 percent of the time in his career.

The free agent market offers no shortage of closers. Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Chris Perez, Joaquin Benoit, Fernando Rodney and Brian Wilson are all available for nothing but money this winter. Johnson requires both money and giving up a player(s). It's unclear what Baltimore would seek in return, but they are in obvious need of a second baseman. Prospects are always popular as well.

The bullpen is one spot where the Orioles have plenty of depth. They could replace Johnson internally with Tommy Hunter (150 ERA+) or Darren O'Day (194 ERA+), plus they always have the option of signing a free agent lower closer at a lower salary.

If Baltimore's payroll situation is truly dire, they could non-tender Johnson prior to next Monday's deadline and let him go for nothing. That seems very unlikely though. Quality relievers are always in demand and they still have months to find a trade partner.

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