He won't turn 26 until January, but Josh Johnson might be one of the better pitchers to become available this winter.
Johnson stands to receive a substantial raise from his 2009 salary of $1.4 million after posting a 15-5 record with 191 strikeouts in 209 innings pitched. Standing 6-7 and weighing 240 pounds, Johnson is physically intimidating and backs it up with phenomenal stuff.
Because of the potential raise he'll get in arbitration this year, there have been rumors that the Marlins will look to deal their young ace either this winter or early in the 2010 season. If Johnson is on the market, either now or in the future, the Chicago Cubs should be all over him like stink on poop.
He doesn't have an enormous track record, but has been good when regularly in the majors. He has a career 34-16 record after breaking into the bigs in 2006.
The Marlins have a track record of dealing young studs when the arbitration clock kicks in. After 2005, they dealt a 25-year old ace, Josh Beckett, to Boston. At that point in his career, Beckett had a very similar resume to that of Johnson, both in statistics and hype.
In exchange for Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota, the Red Sox paid a heavy price: a package of four prospects including then-baby shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
But the Sox brought in a consistent third baseman, a top-of-the-rotation starter, and a headcase reliever for one uber prospect and three nice pieces. Anibel Sanchez would be the next-best player in that deal, and he hasn't developed into a superstar.
The Cubs have a length track record of dealing with the Marlins this decade.
In March of 2002, the Cubs dealt four players including Julian Tavarez and an unknown minor league lefty named Dontrelle Willis to the Marlins for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca. While Alfonseca became as much of an urban legend as he did closer in Chicago, Clement had a few nice seasons for the Cubs.
In November of 2003, the Cubs dealt Hee Seop Choi to Florida for Derrek Lee, who had just been part of the Cubs' heartbreaking loss in the National League Championship Series. Obviously that deal was a huge win for the Cubs.
The Marlins got theirs in December of 2005, though, when the Cubs dealt Sergio Mitre, Renyel Pinto and the Marlins' 2009 Opening Day Starter, Ricky Nolasco, to the Marlins for Juan Pierre.
Jim Hendry probably regrets that deal right now, as Nolasco has blossomed into a good young starter.
Then last winter, the Cubs sent arguably their top pitching prospect, Jose Ceda, to Miami in exchange for should-be closer Kevin Gregg. Gregg was a failure in his one season in Chicago and shouldn't be back in 2010; the Cubs have until December 1 to offer him arbitration.
Should the next deal in this ongoing relationship be for Johnson?
There have been floating rumors that the Cubs won't part ways with young uber prospect Starlin Castro in a deal for an established major leaguer, including Toronto's Roy Halladay. This should make dealing with the Marlins even more enticing, because they already have Ramirez at short.
The Marlins have had pretty good luck with former-Cubs pitching prospects like Willis and Nolasco, though. Perhaps Jay Jackson and/or Jeff Samardzija could centerpiece a deal including a potential first baseman, Jake Fox, and outfield depth in Tyler Colvin.
The Marlins are also supposedly shopping their second baseman, Dan Uggla, so 2009 National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coughlin can move to his natural position. Throwing an outfielder like Colvin and a hitter like Fox into the deal might be sweet enough for the Marlins to bite.
After all, they stole a top pitching prospect, Ceda, for garbage, Gregg, last winter.
I'm not proposing the Cubs trade for Uggla, but Johnson should be at the top of the Cubs' list of trade possibilities if they can add the big right-hander. If the Marlins history is consistent, though, the Cubs sucking up Uggla as part of the deal (like the Red Sox taking Lowell's contract in the Beckett trade) wouldn't be a terrible idea.
But, again, this piece isn't centered around Uggla. I'm advocating the Cubs making a strong play to deal for Johnson to bring some youth and a big arm to their rotation for 2010 and beyond.