Josh Johnson is a former white whale, a dominant All-Star who was languishing on dumb Marlins team. He was, for every other franchise, the best example of "So ... you gonna eat that?" in baseball. It was implied that the Marlins should just give him away instead of wasting him. For two years, he was among the best pitchers in baseball; for two years after that, he was merely very, very good. Then he broke and broke again, disappearing after 16 miserable starts in 2013.
The Giants signed him to a minor-league deal, which is a move with about as much upside as any minor-league deal you’ll see. The catch is that Johnson has had three Tommy John surgeries, which is still something of untested surgical waters. The most memorable player of recent vintage to make it back after three Tommy John procedures was Jason Isringhausen, who came back to have a couple nondescript seasons out of the bullpen before retiring. Jose Rijo tried it in 2002, and was less successful.
Johnson had a minor-league deal with the Padres last, and I was sure he was going to rise up and smite the Giants. He got hurt again, because that’s what happens to him, apparently. He used to have superlative stuff, of course. I don’t know why this video exists, but it’s fun:
I’m more amused by Giancarlo Stanton running round the outfield without a glove, Buster Posey showing off his classic getting-thrown-out skills, and then hitting maybe the weakest ball he’ll ever hit in his career. You can see the stuff from Johnson, though. 95 with movement, with breaking balls that can flummox. Plus, the Giants’ announcers probably won’t call him "JJ" every five seconds, so you won’t be tempted to eat your television.
If Johnson makes it back, that is. And in the history of recent comebacks, we can remember some weirdos. Ryan Vogelsong, for one. Dude was playing on a prison team with Bruce Wayne in Nepal, and suddenly he’s a two-time champion. Rich Hill was a phantom, and now he’s going to make scores of millions as the best pitcher on the free agent market. Bartolo Colon missed years — years! — and came back when he was 38 — 38! — in something of a rhombus-like shape — rhombus-like! — and he’s still effective six years later. All of those stories were less likely than Johnson returning and thriving.
Not pictured: the hundreds of pitchers who also attempt comebacks but aren’t as lucky.
It’s possible that Johnson will try to reclaim his stuff in the bullpen, but whatever his role, we know two things:
- The odds are against him
- It’s still a great raffle ticket for the Giants to have. He used to be so awesome.
I would have wished Johnson best of luck on any other team — even that one — but now he’s with the Giants, so I don’t have to qualify those wishes at all. In the offseason after the 2012 season, I would have given up quite a lot for Johnson to be on the Giants. It took a winding road and four hard seasons, but now there’s a chance we’ll see him. Here’s hoping that medical science wins another round.