Why Josh Johnson Should Be Traded by Miami Marlins This Winter
Josh Johnson hasn’t come close to being the elite pitcher the Miami Marlins expected this year, and the lack of return on Johnson’s 2010 contract extension means the offseason is the time to cut him loose.
Returning from injury, he was supposed to be the catalyst for the Marlins to make the playoffs in 2012. Instead, Johnson has been plagued by inconsistency, although the team has also struggled with run support.
The fact that he was being made available for a trade in July—albeit for a princely sum—means that Miami certainly isn’t committed to its pitcher. The Marlins gave up on being competitive this year when they became sellers at the deadline.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that 2013 is nothing more than a rebuilding year, with the playoffs not even a consideration for the front office.
Here are three reasons why Johnson should be shown the door in the offseason.
He's Returned from Injury
It might seem strange to suggest trading a starting pitcher now that he’s remained healthy across the season, but there is logic there.
Johnson made a great recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2007 and was back in the Marlins lineup 11 months after the procedure. However, he was sidelined for most of last year with a shoulder injury, playing only nine games.
Johnson has started 141 games in seven seasons, which isn’t exactly spectacular. Some of his performances have been, however, which remains a reason to keep him on the team. It’s also a reason to trade him, as any prospective trading partners will know both his injury history and his talent.
The risk/reward equation will undoubtedly work out differently for each team, but a good season from Johnson in 2013 could suddenly take a team into playoff contention.
The Marlins were banking on that for this season, and it didn’t work out, but other teams could be convinced of the pitcher’s value.
Johnson’s career ERA is 3.14, and he has a good record of denying home runs. He has never conceded more than 14 home runs in a season, and the development of his curveball this year has been interesting to watch.
That curveball was useful for him as he broke his four-game losing streak against the Milwaukee Brewers on September 6. Johnson pitched seven good innings, striking out seven while allowing two runs and four hits. If he can string together a run of good performances to close out the year, his value will go up, regardless of his injury history.
The Marlins were the team that drafted Johnson, and he has been a good—sometimes great—servant for them. It’s safe to say that neither party owes a thing to the other, but the team simply can’t wait another year to see if he returns to his earlier form.
If Miami is serious about building a contender, it needs to acquire pieces for the future.
In his final act as a Marlin, Johnson can provide such assets to the team.
The Signs of Decline Are There
The Marlins will know Johnson’s arm better than anyone in the world, so they will have spotted the decline in his performance, which indicates he is no longer worthy of his contract.
Writing for FishStripes.com, Michael Jong picked up on an interesting point that has significant implications for Johnson’s future. Jong reported that Johnson’s fastball has lost 1.7 mph of velocity, dropping to an average of 92.8 mph.
Jong also cites Mike Fast at Hardball Times.com when the latter wrote that every mile per hour a pitcher loses on his fastball is equivalent to a quarter of a run in production. This sort of drop-off isn’t a good omen, as it indicates Johnson will never return to the standard he set himself in 2009-10.
Johnson is set to make $13.75 million next year—as he did this year—which isn’t really justified by his results.
Pitchers—along with most other athletes—are judged on wins. Johnson’s win-loss percentage this year is .421, which is his worst ever in the major leagues when he has played more than four games in a season.
He has also conceded 12 home runs—five of them in August alone—which is his worst total since 2009. With around a month still to go, it could turn out to be his worst season ever in that respect.
It’s arguable that his numbers are a little skewed by his appalling start to the season and that he has shown a good deal of improvement since the All-Star Game.
These points remain valid, but they don’t make Johnson any less of a gamble for another year.
A further decline in 2013 would be intolerable.
Next season marks the final year of Johnson’s contract, and he could yet put up good numbers. However, the trades for Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi showed that the Marlins are now looking to build depth and young talent. Both Turner and Eovaldi are not yet complete pitchers, but they are getting experience and have shown good potential for the future of the Marlins rotation.
The draft, too, has demonstrated that the Fish are picking out young pitchers to contribute on long-term bases.
The spending spree of the last offseason—especially the money given to Heath Bell—was a mistake, one from which the Marlins need quickly to learn.
It’s youth from here on out, and it’s difficult to see how Johnson fits into this.
If anything, now that the bigger picture is in view, his place and salary are actually of detriment to the team.
The first slide in this article stated that Johnson has “returned from injury,” which is perfectly true and provides reasons to both trade and keep him.
However, given his history of breaking down, the doubts about his fitness will not be erased going into this offseason.
The Marlins got great production out of Johnson in 2010, which has to have contributed to the decision to keep him on this year, despite his absence for most of 2011.
His contract is back loaded over the last two years, with 2012 being the point at which his price tag skyrockets.
With his having failed to return to his 2010 numbers—and with his salary over three times that of 2010—this year has been Johnson's failed audition for 2013. He had to prove he could stay healthy and win games. He has done one but at the expense of the other.
Another injury in a Marlins uniform cannot be a worthwhile risk.
If the Marlins got out now, Johnson’s WAR and salary in 2010 would mean that they still got solid value from his contract extension, but keeping him around next year and then seeing him injured would damage the deal significantly.
Johnson remains a very good pitcher who could provide a one-season spark for a team needing an extra push to the playoffs.
He could also be another expensive gamble that did not pay off, sitting on the disabled list for his final season and further delaying the ascent of the Marlins.
The Marlins have to look beyond next year, even if it means 2013 is another season of disappointment. Looking at the way the Washington Nationals suffered for their current success would be a good motivator throughout the dark times.
In order to plan for the future, sacrifices have to be made.
It’s unfortunate, but Josh Johnson has to be one of them, and it has to happen soon.