Blue Jays decline to make qualifying offer to JJ
Right-hander set to enter free agency along with Davis, Kawasaki and Ortiz
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays and right-hander Josh Johnson appear to have parted ways after the club decided not to make a qualifying offer prior to Monday afternoon's deadline.
Toronto had until 5 p.m. ET to offer Johnson a contract for next season at $14.1 million. In theory, the two sides could still reach an agreement on a contract for less money, but Johnson is free to sign with another team starting at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
There hasn't been any progress made in contract negotiations and Johnson will shift his attention to free agency, according to an MLB.com source. He joins Rajai Davis, Munenori Kawasaki, the retired Darren Oliver and veteran Ramon Ortiz as Toronto's free agents.
Johnson likely will be hard-pressed to secure $14.1 million on the open market, but he should still garner plenty of interest through free agency considering the lack of quality starting pitchers available. Johnson's agent, Matt Sosnick, previously stated his client should be able to get at least $10 million on a one-year deal.
The 29-year-old Johnson was an integral component of last year's blockbuster trade with the Marlins. Johnson was acquired by Toronto with shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle and veteran catcher John Buck in exchange for a series of prospects.
Johnson was expected to solve the Blue Jays' woes on the mound, but he instead suffered through an injury-plagued 2013 season. He made just 16 starts and won only two games while posting a 6.20 ERA in 81 1/3 innings. It was by far Johnson's worst year since a 2007 season in which he was limited to just four starts and posted a 7.47 ERA.
The native of Minnesota missed more than a month early in 2013 with a right biceps injury and then had his year cut short on Aug. 6 because of lingering soreness in his right forearm. Johnson eventually underwent surgery to have bone spurs removed from his right elbow. The belief from his agent is that the injury played a major role in his prolonged struggles on the mound.
Johnson is expected to make a full recovery for the start of Spring Training. The comparable contract that Sosnick has been using is that of right-hander Ben Sheets, who was signed to a $10 million deal in 2010 after missing the previous season because of injury.
Even if the Blue Jays had made a qualifying offer to Johnson, it wouldn't necessarily have guaranteed his return. The nine-year veteran would have needed to accept the offer, but that was considered a mere formality if Toronto had been willing to do the deal. In the event that Johnson did actually decline, the Blue Jays would have been eligible to receive a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft after he signed with another organization.
Johnson, who owns an impressive career 3.40 ERA, is free to negotiate with any team of his choosing. Interested teams will not have to part with their top Draft pick to sign the former National League ERA champion, and Toronto will likely focus on other pitchers in an attempt to upgrade the starting rotation.
As for Davis, Oliver, Kawasaki and Ortiz, who will also become free agents at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Oliver has retired and the others weren't realistic candidates to receive consideration for a qualifying offer.
Davis is expected to be in the market for a multiyear contract and has a strong preference to join an organization that will give him an opportunity to play on an everyday basis. That won't happen in Toronto, but there's still a chance the club could bring Davis back as a reserve outfielder if he doesn't receive a suitable offer elsewhere.
There have been conflicting reports on the future of Kawasaki. Toronto declined his team option, and it's possible Kawasaki will return to Japan next season, but it's still possible he could work out another contract with the Blue Jays.