7/24/2014 3:50 P.M. ET
Struggling Johnson designated for assignment
Right-hander, who saved 101 games for Orioles in 2012-13, had 6.92 ERA with A's
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- The $10 million experiment is over.
Veteran reliever Jim Johnson was designated for assignment by the A's on Thursday morning, marking the end of a turbulent eight-month tenure in Oakland.
The fallen closer, relieved of his ninth-inning duties just two weeks into the season, exits with a Major League-worst 6.92 ERA -- and an uncertain future. Johnson should easily clear waivers, because of his hefty price tag, and likely be released.
Even if he was offered a Minor League assignment, an improbable proposition, Johnson has enough service time to decline it and become a free agent.
Either way, his time with the organization is considered over.
"It started out bad for him, and he just couldn't get into a spot where he could find himself and not have to think about some of the failures," said manager Bob Melvin. "It just kept snowballing on him.
"A lot of times, when you get dug into a hole like this, maybe the best thing for him is a breath of fresh air. It wouldn't surprise me if somebody picked him up and he started to pitch much better."
Johnson came to the A's in a trade with the Orioles having compiled a Major League-best 101 saves over his previous two seasons, but he struggled right away in his new home and never looked entirely comfortable at the Coliseum.
His final appearance in green and gold Wednesday night unfortunately spelled out his season to this point. At a time when Melvin needed to save his overworked bullpen, Johnson entered with a seven-run lead and couldn't get an out, surrendering four runs while facing as many batters.
His WHIP soared to 2.06, his opponents' average to .353, and on Thursday morning he walked into the A's clubhouse only to be diverted to the manager's office. Soon, he was telling teammates goodbye, though he didn't stick around to speak to the media.
"You could tell he took it pretty hard, and rightfully so," said reliever Luke Gregerson. "I think, along with other players here, we know he's a lot better than the results that he got this year. Don't know how it happened, don't know why it happened. I think, ultimately, he'll be fine moving forward if he wants to continue playing. He's way too good to have struggled."
"It's a really tough feeling going out there when it seems like everything's going against you," added closer Sean Doolittle, "and for him to have to deal with that pretty much all season, all the while when he was working on stuff and doing so many things to try to find answers and get a fix, I just felt really bad for him. I wish there was something we could've done or figure out a way to right the ship."
Given his track record, Johnson's ongoing struggles were mystifying. His sinker wasn't in top form on occasion, but there's thought he also ran into bad luck more often than not -- and in front of a relentless home crowd that showered him with boos from his first day on.
No matter, he wasn't performing, and Melvin ran out of ways to use him.
"It's not like he wasn't accountable, though," Melvin said. "It's not like he didn't feel bad about it. I just couldn't get him in a spot where he could get on a roll. I feel awful about it, too, because it's my job to get him in a position to succeed. It just didn't happen here. It's not like the stuff was any different. He just had a tough time showing some consistency here."
"That was one of the things I respected about him most, the attitude and the work ethic he continued to bring to the field every day despite the fact his numbers might not have been there," said Doolittle, an All-Star who has thrived in the closer's role in place of Johnson. "He kept his head down and continued to try to find answers."
The A's will pay the remainder of Johnson's salary, a large chunk of change for a small-market team -- but a necessity in weeding out what grew into something of a bad seed on this first-place team.
"Sometimes when you're struggling, a chance of scenery can only help," said Gregerson. "It's a fresh start. But you feel for him. We've all talked about how the fans booed him. We think it's wrong on their part. You gotta stick up for your players, your team, and the more positive energy you get, the quicker things can turn around.
"He's too good to be doing as bad as he was, and I think a little positive energy could've gone a long way."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.