The Toronto Blue Jays announced on Monday that they won’t give pitcher Josh Johnson a qualifying offer, which means Johnson is now an unrestricted free agent.

This may well be an opportunity for the San Diego Padres.

The Padres finished 11th in the National League in team ERA this year, at 3.98, with only starters Andrew Cashner (3.09) and Eric Stults (3.93), along with swing-man Tyson Ross (3.17), pitching to ERAs below the team average.

That makes a reclamation project like Johnson an interesting prospect.

Johnson’s season with the Blue Jays was terrible by any standard.

He missed half the season due to injury, and when he was on the mound, he was getting lit up. His 6.20 ERA over 81.1 innings was his worst since 2007 when he only pitched in four games. His 1.660 WHIP was likewise the second-worst of his career, and his 1.7 HR surrendered per nine innings was almost triple his career average.

The six-foot-seven righty was especially bad with runners on base, where he surrendered a .392 batting average and a 1.055 OPS, throwing even more gas on the fire.

Taken all in all, the Jays were pretty smart to let Johnson walk, as offering him another $14.1 million for that kind of performance would have been a spectacularly bad decision.

And this is where the opportunity for the Padres opens up.

Assuming Johnson is healthy in 2014, he would make an excellent acquisition to bolster the rotation at a discounted price.

Historically, Johnson is a quality starter. His years in the Miami Marlins organization showed him to be a front-line pitcher whose 2.30 ERA led the NL in 2010. In eight years with the Marlins he had a 3.15 ERA and a 1.233 WHIP, both excellent numbers.

Perhaps a return to the National League and moving back to a warmer climate in a small market would do Johnson some good. If the Padres could land him for $8-10 million per year, it could pan out into a season-changing move for 2014 and beyond.

On the other hand, he could turn into another Edinson Volquez, not living up to the expectations and finding himself traded before the end of his second year. Except a Johnson flame-out would be for a lot more money than Volquez was. 

But if San Diego wants to turn their fortunes around in a division which features the big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers, a perennially strong team in the San Francisco Giants and the quickly improving Arizona Diamondbacks, they’re going to have to take a couple of chances on some potential bargains.

If Johnson can even come close to his historical performance, he’d be an asset to the Padres pitching staff. And that’s a gamble worth taking.


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