Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette confirmed this afternoon that the Orioles will tender a contract to closer Jim Johnson for the 2014 season, viewing him as part of a core group that he wants to keep in Baltimore.
Johnson's status was uncertain after nine blown saves and the prospect of receiving another substantial raise from the $6.5 million he's earning this season. That's a significant chunk of money for a ninth inning specialist.
"Jim Johnson is one of our core players," Duquette said during batting practice.
So, the intention is to bring back Johnson next season?
"Yes, it is," Duquette said.
Johnson is 3-8 with a 2.90 ERA and 48 saves in 72 appearances this season. He's the first Orioles reliever with two 40-save seasons.
With two more saves, Johnson will join former Dodgers closer Eric Gagne as the only pitchers in major league history with consecutive 50-save seasons. He's totaled 99 over the past two years, though he only had three blown saves in 2012.
"Jimmy has done something historic in terms of the number of games he's saved over the last couple years," Duquette said. "He's established significant value by doing that in consecutive years. He came into the job last year and I think he had nine saves (in 2011) and over the last two years, he has (99)."
It's been Duquette's philosophy to avoid spending big on closers, but he's willing to do so for Johnson, the Orioles' fifth-round pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft.
"I think that Johnson has established himself as a top closer in the big leagues when you look at the top savers in the league," Duquette said. "He is right up there."
The nine blown saves are viewed as an aberration in the front office.
"Jim Johnson's been consistent over those last two years," Duquette said. "He had a better year last year than he had this year, but he still had a good year this year. You could see the good stuff he had (Thursday) night when he closed the game out. I mean, he's healthy, he's strong, he's throwing good."
And he's going to remain the closer, with no thought given to making him a starter again.
"Not really," Duquette said. "He's established himself as one of the top closers in the game."