Indians add Johnson to staff
Righty expected to fill Elarton's void; Millwood heads to Texas
CLEVELAND -- The Tribe's 2006 rotation is set, with Kevin Millwood officially out of the picture and Jason Johnson coming aboard.The Indians signed Johnson, who spent the past two seasons with the Tigers, to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2007. Johnson's contract comes with a guarantee of $4 million in 2006, with incentives based on innings and starts. If Johnson pitches 215 innings and makes 33 starts next season, his contract will max out as a two-year deal worth $11.5 million. With the signing of the 32-year-old Johnson, the Indians have cut off talks with Millwood and his agent, Scott Boras, about re-signing. The Indians weren't willing to sign Millwood to the type of pricy, long-term deal he was looking for, so they turned their attention toward Johnson, a less-expensive, short-term alternative.
Millwood reached a preliminary agreement Monday on a five-year, $60 million contract with the Rangers.Though his career record of 52-86 isn't exactly inspiring, Johnson gives the Indians an arm capable of eating innings and notching quality starts, the two hallmarks of the club's successful 2005 rotation. "We always look at dependability and reliability being the two main criteria we require for our team," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "We also think there's some upside [for Johnson] to being in a winning environment and a positive environment." Johnson, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, logged a career-high 210 innings for the Tigers in 2005, en route to a 8-13 record and 4.54 ERA in 33 starts. He notched 19 quality starts, a total that fell one shy of the Indians' team-high of 20, set by Millwood and Jake Westbrook. In Johnson, the Indians have added another pitcher who fits the mold of Westbrook and Paul Byrd, the other free agent addition to the rotation. The three share a penchant for inducing quick, groundball outs that allow them to work deep into games. In the Indians, Johnson, who lost six games in which he notched a quality start last season, finds a winning team that could help him improve upon his subpar win total. "That's something I'm definitely looking forward to," he said. "It's going to be nice on a team like this that has a chance to win every time they take the field. That's going to help me out as far as confidence goes and as far as getting wins." Johnson, the Tigers' Opening Day starter in 2004, is one of only eight pitchers in the American League to make at least 32 starts in each of the last three seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Indians will be Johnson's fifth big-league team. He made his Major League debut with the Pirates in 1997 and has since pitched for the Devil Rays, Orioles and Tigers. Johnson is expected to round out the back end of the Tribe's rotation, which lost Millwood and Scott Elarton, who recently signed with the Royals. Shapiro had said earlier this month that he planned to make the signing of a right-handed bat and a right-handed setup man his priorities the remainder of the offseason. But when the free agent markets in each of those areas thinned out the past couple of weeks, Shapiro abandoned his plan to give either Jason Davis, Fausto Carmona or Jeremy Sowers a rotation spot, and he went after a veteran. "We had intended to put a young player in the rotation and sign elsewhere," Shapiro said. "But we made this signing, and it gives us an area of great depth." Shapiro said the Indians are in no way leery of the fact Johnson is diabetic. It has been speculated in the past that the disease limits Johnson's effectiveness down the stretch in a given season, but both the pitcher and the GM refuted that claim. "When I first got diagnosed, my dad told me, 'Use it as a tool,'" Johnson said. "He said, 'If you can be a baseball player and have diabetes and be successful, you can make a difference in a lot of people's lives.' If I'm successful enough and control diabetes enough, I can use it as a tool instead of a crutch." Shapiro is particularly excited about one tool Johnson added to his repertoire last year -- a two-seam fastball. The pitch has become one of Johnson's most effective weapons. "I know he's 32 years old, but I think we're getting this guy on the rise," Shapiro said. "I'm excited about the signing." This could be the last of the Indians' big free agent signings this offseason. Shapiro said he still has some money available, but the talent pool has become a little too thin to work with. The free agent market is now devoid of any impact bats, so Shapiro said the only way he'll add a player in that department would be via the trade route. "I don't view our offseason book as being closed," he said. "[Any moves made] may be more of small nature or extra player nature, but I'm going to leave options open if an opportunity develops."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.