Andy MacPhail, president of baseball operations, said it’s “understandable” that so many fans are obsessing over Steve Johnson’s exclusion from the 40-man roster. But he also noted during our brief conversation earlier today that Johnson spent the majority of the 2009 season pitching at the Single-A level. The Orioles are counting on other teams passing on the chance to select him in the Rule 5 draft.
It might be a different story if Johnson had finished the season at Triple-A Norfolk and appeared to be on the threshold of reaching the majors. Another club might be more inclined to stash him on its 25-man roster.
You also have to figure that the temptation would be greater if Johnson was flashing an upper-90s fastball. He knows how to pitch and keeps winning at every level. He doesn’t need overpowering stuff to get hitters out. But he also is more likely to fly under the radar if he isn’t lighting up the guns. Teams tend to take more risks in the Rule 5 if they’re getting a power arm.
We’ll find out next month whether that logic holds up.
Also, keep in mind that any team claiming a player in the draft must keep him all season or offer him back for half the $50,000 price. The Orioles kept shortstop Jose Morban. They gave up pitcher Mike Johnson.
More recently, they returned catcher Adam Donachie to the Royals on March 26, 2007 after obtaining him from the Phillies in a trade for their own Rule 5 pick, pitcher Alfredo Simon. In one of those weird twists, both players were in the Orioles’ camp this spring.
Going back to Johnson, as I pointed out earlier, the Orioles intend to add players to their 40-man roster over the winter. They’ll need to clear more space. What you see now isn’t what you’re going to see in February.
“It’s not a case of comparing Johnson to other names on the 40-man right now,” MacPhail said. “If we add a third baseman, somebody’s got to come off. If we add a backup catcher, somebody’s got to come off. If we acquire a different first baseman, somebody’s got to come off.
“We have in mind who the potential candidates are to come off over the course of the winter.”
On a separate note, MacPhail will soon meet with majority owner Peter Angelos - perhaps as early as tomorrow - to discuss Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman. But I’m not backing off from my original prediction that the Orioles won’t sign him. They’re not going to jump into a bidding war for him.
AFL update: Josh Bell went 1-for-3 with a double, RBI and run scored in Phoenix’s 7-4 loss to Surprise. Bell is batting .319 with 10 doubles and 19 RBIs. Matt Angle went 0-for-4 with a walk, lowering his average to .237.