Brian Johnson was a serviceable spot starter for the 2018 Boston Red Sox, but his 2019 may make or break his career with Boston.
Brian Johnson is no Rick Porcello, but building upon his 2018 season Johnson could be on the cusp of being a regular within the Red Sox rotation circa 2020. Porcello is a pending free agent and free agency offers up an opportunity for the player entering free agency and those left behind. If the Red Sox and Porcello split, the now 28-year-old Johnson could sneak in as a possible replacement.
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The former first-round pick (2012) Johnson is certainly no Porcello and that is not a path I would even consider – Porcello is a proven commodity and Johnson in 2018 had just 13 starts, but in those starts, the Red Sox won nine games. Statistically, Johnson was just what he needed to be, a dependable spot starter who could be punched in as a bottom of the rotation hurler.
Johnson finished 4-3 as a starter with a 4.15 ERA, 4.91 xFIP, 7.9 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and two extra numbers that border on depressing – a 1.8 HR/9 and 36 GB%. Put them together and you have what can best be signified as a fringe starter, but that is the Red Sox. Put Johnson in the more hideous rotations such as the Orioles or White Sox and he would take the bump with regularity.
Just what will happen with the lefty in 2019? Trade value is certainly an alternative based on the genetic disposition of being a left-hander and the potential to start elsewhere. Never discount the ability to create a reasonably attractive package to be tied up with ribbon and bow and sent elsewhere, but I see the Red Sox in hold status on Johnson.
Steven Wright and Chris Sale have knee and possible shoulder situations that need to be resolved. Assume that spring training gives both clear sailings on calm waters and Johnson gets back into the waiting line. But baseball has a strange way of dismembering pitching staffs which is exactly why Johnson got his starts. Never say never when it comes to the possible fragile arms going haywire.
For Johnson to make an impact he has to do something statistically significant to instill a sense of his being a serious consideration for the 2020 rotation – assuming that Porcello or Sale or (don’t think about it) both are taking their talent elsewhere. The key words are “statistically significant” and any repeat of 2018 numbers would simply not cut it – this is, after all, the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox bullpen certainly has been mentioned this offseason ad nauseam with an absentee closer and a hole – minor to me – with the exit of Joe Kelly. Johnson could be a serviceable addition to the last line of pitching defense, but his bullpen numbers reflect his starter numbers. And just maybe Bobby Poyner will be given first dibs as lefty extraordinaire fo the bullpen.
From my view, I see it as all in for Johnson as a rotation part on first call and bullpen on the second call. Johnson’s path as I repeat myself is (1) to get his positive numbers more in line for what is future expected and (2) for an opening that would allow Johnson to be considered as a forethought and not an afterthought for 2020.