The Marlins should keep Josh JohnsonBy
Tuesday night, the Marlins made big waves by trading franchise cornerstone Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers. It was the second blockbuster trade the team had made this July, following the Omar Infante/Anibal Sanchez deal to Detroit, which took place only one day earlier. The Marlins have fully entered “sell mode”, and rumors suggest Josh Johnson is the next to go. But dealing the team’s ace would be a mistake, and it is in the Marlins’ best interests to instead keep Johnson.
By dealing Josh, the Marlins hope to get young players to build the farm system, while at the same time helping the team be competitive next season. Unfortunately, there is a large amount of risk involved in relying on unproven commodities to contribute significantly to the team. Only Mark Buehrle and Ricky Nolasco, both of whom are solid but not spectacular, would be left in the rotation for 2013.(This is assuming Zambrano does not re-sign with the team). Left to fill the remaining void would be the 21 year-old Jacob Turner and 22 year-old Nate Eovaldi–with a total of 22 Major League starts between them. The fifth spot could belong to Wade LeBlanc, or another starter acquired by dealing Johnson.
Either way, a rotation consisting of the five mentioned would be tough to see making the playoffs, no matter the upside of Turner and Eovaldi. The fact is, many pitching prospects don’t live up to expectations, or don’t work out at all. Very, very few reach their full potential. Banking on the Marlins’ additions to all pitch well is a huge gamble, and even at their best, it’s unlikely the Marlins will find a true ace, which is what they have in Johnson.
At only 28, Johnson has been incredible when he’s managed to stay healthy (2.41 FIP in 2010), and is signed relatively cheap through next season, in the third season of a 4 year $39 million contract. To make a serious run at the playoffs next season, the Marlins will need JJ’s production to anchor their rotation. If anything, the Marlins should be looking to re-sign Johnson, not move him.
Another problem with trading JJ would be the fan backlash. Even if the front office has every intention of keeping the Marlins relevant, the trading of both Hanley and Johnson would not sit well with the average fan. Memories of 1997 and 2003 continue to resonate, and the trade of Johnson would signal the white flag and return to the cellar of the NL East–though that is far from the truth. The team cannot afford to let attendance sag in the brand new Marlins Park, and losing one of the team’s most popular players certainly wouldn’t help.
Even if the Marlins don’t plan on re-signing Johnson after next season, now would not be the time to deal him. His value is at one of its lowest points over the past few years, due to a combination of the current market and underperformance according to his underlying metrics. Even with Cole Hamels now off the table, there are still plenty of premier pitchers available at the deadline. Zach Greinke, James Shields, and Ryan Dempster are all top of the rotation starters on the block, lessening competition of Johnson. In a weaker year, without so many high-end starters also being shopped around, Johnson could fetch a much better return–but other viable options for teams diminish his trade value.
Johnson’s uncharacteristically high 4.14 ERA also lowers his value on the market. Despite his FIP of an impressive 2.97, teams would still be likely to offer more for Johnson if his ERA sat closer to three, and he had tallied up a few more wins. A season in which Johnson’s ERA better reflected his true ability (3.12 career FIP) would be the one to trade him.
All of this to say, keep Josh Johnson a Marlin this trade deadline.