San Francisco Giants: A Look at Two Minor League Signings

May 1, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Josh Johnson (55) sits in the dugout during the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
May 1, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Josh Johnson (55) sits in the dugout during the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

While unable to make any big signings yet, the San Francisco Giants have still kept busy by bringing in two players on minor league contracts.

The official start of Major League Baseball’s offseason is just days away, but teams have already started making minor league deals. The San Francisco Giants have agreed to terms with a couple of players already since being bounced from the postseason a few weeks ago.

Last week, the Giants brought back Kyle Blanks, who was under contract with the team last season but didn’t play at any minor league level. On Tuesday, they added a former high-profile pitcher to the organization, picking up Josh Johnson.

Blanks, a first baseman and corner outfielder, was signed last offseason to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. He figured to have a good shot at making the team out of camp, or at least playing a role at some point during the season, but that never came to fruition.

The 6’6″ slugger showed off some power for the Giants during Cactus League play, hitting a pair of home runs among his four hits in four games. That would be the extent of his impact wearing the orange and black. A recurring problem with his heels, which has plagued him for more than one season, kept him off the field all season.

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Blanks always comes with the same disclaimer: “If he’s healthy”. If he’s healthy, he’s one of the stronger hitters in baseball, but his body continues to be his worst enemy.

He has a career .568 slugging percentage in Triple-A while hitting a home run every 15.4 at-bats, but it’s never translated to sustained success in the major leagues. He has a career .416 slugging at the big league level, and has played at least half a season’s worth of games just once in seven years.

If he’s healthy, Blanks can provide a little bit of short-term insurance at first base in the case of a small Brandon Belt injury. At this stage of his career and with his history of foot injuries, he should probably stay far away from the outfield. But if Belt is going to miss a week or two, Blanks could slide in and fill the void until he’s back.

On the pitching side of things, the Giants are bringing in Johnson, who was one of the game’s best for a short time in his younger days. The 6’7″, 250-pound right-hander finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006 with the Florida Marlins, was an All-Star in 2009, and enjoyed his best season in 2010.

In 28 starts that year for the Marlins, Johnson posted a National League-leading 2.30 ERA along with a 1.105 WHIP while striking out over a batter an inning. He allowed only seven home runs in 183.2 innings, good for a league-low 0.3 home runs per nine innings. Johnson finished fifth in Cy Young voting.

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2011 started off very well also, as Johnson threw to the tune of a 1.64 ERA and 0.978 WHIP in the first nine starts, but inflammation in his throwing shoulder sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Injuries have also been Johnson’s downfall. In August of 2007, he had his first Tommy John surgery.  In April of 2014, he underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time. In September 2015, he had it for the third time.

Johnson hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since August in 2013, and hasn’t pitched in a professional game since September 4th of 2015. On that day, he faced one batter for Lake Elsinore (the San Diego Padres’ Advanced-A affiliate) before more arm problems forced him to leave the game. He had his third TJ surgery two weeks later.

Johnson’s deal is nothing more than a “show us what you’ve got” kind of deal. No one should expect him to come in and compete with Matt Cain and Ty Blach for the fifth spot in the rotation. Instead, if Johnson is healthy (there’s that phrase again), he could provide veteran depth in the organization as he attempts to work his way back into form.

Coming back from Tommy John surgery the second time is difficult enough, but pitching after three surgeries is nearly unheard of. Jason Isringhausen got back to the majors after going under the knife thrice, but Jonny Venters just returned to the minor leagues this past season after missing nearly full four years. Jose Rijo retired after being worked on for the third time. Johnson will try to join Isringhausen in the exclusive club.

Next: Don't Believe Every Rumor You Hear

The reality is that, most likely, neither player ever sees the field for the Giants in the regular season. But having this kind of experienced depth isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s worked in the past.