The first Alex Anthopoulos trade is on the board for Atlanta.
The new general manager sent veteran reliever Jim Johnson, who lost his job as the Braves’ closer last season, and international cap space to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for minor-league left-hander Justin Kelly on Thursday afternoon. Johnson is under contract through the 2018 season after signing a two-year, $10 million extension after his strong finish in 2016.
After moving the $4.5 million remaining on Johnson’s deal, the Braves are responsible for approximately $77 million in guaranteed contracts next season.
Kelly, 24, climbed rapidly through the Angels’ system, jumping from rookie ball to Triple-A over the course of the 2017 season. A former 33rd-round pick out of UC Santa Barbara, he claimed a 3.53 ERA in 63 2/3 innings, primarily working as a reliever.
The unceremonious exit follows a difficult 2017 season for Johnson — and opens up an extra spot in Atlanta’s 2018 bullpen. In 42 appearances from May 23 to Oct. 1, Johnson earned seven blown saves, walked 22 batters, ran up a 6.93 ERA and generated a career-worst 48.5 ground-ball rate. His overall numbers in a Braves uniform (51 saves, 3.67 ERA) were much better than his final stretch run, but the organization was already expected to hand Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter the bulk of its high-leverage, late-game innings next season.
The Angels are expected to use the extra $1.2 million in international bonus pool money in a push to sign Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani.