July 18, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Josh Johnson (55) pitches against the Chicago Cubs in the second inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-US PRESSWIRE

Jays Should Acquire Josh Johnson if Price is Right

It wasn’t long ago that I witnessed the swiftness and thoroughness of a Jeffrey Loria fire sale as I cheered for both the Expos and Jays at the time. I’ve written many articles about the shrewd moves that gave him control over the Marlins at a cost which was a fraction of what they are now worth, and with extremely favourable loans. Everyone thought that he was reinvesting in the team when the new stadium came to be, but now we all know that it wasn’t likely to be his plan for the long term. Seemingly driven by the almighty dollar, he’s one owner that I would steer clear of. It looks like he’s at it again, in Florida this time, the very year his team opened a brand new state of the art stadium. While he could explain the moves made while owner of the Expos by indicating their empty seats and unattractive stadium as culprits, there’s no similar case to be made in Florida.

The Marlins unloaded Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to the Tigers in return for minor league players who are cheap, controllable, and one who has some real promise but has had a rough time of late. That trade seemed to make some sense, but it was the Hanley Ramirez deal that had me scratching my head. It was entirely a money move, and while it did bring a significant piece back to Florida, Nate Eovaldi, the value of the return definitely doesn’t match the value of Ramirez. The beginning of another fire sale? It seems likely, although they state publicly that they want to keep some cornerstone pieces in place. After all, someone has to play and draw some fans through the turn gates. How else will Jeffrey Loria pad his pockets?

I could go on and on about their plights and how sorry I feel for their fans, but that’s a piece for another time. Right now, I’ll focus on how Alex Anthopoulos can take advantage of their greedy owner and snap up one of the best arms in MLB, Josh Johnson.

Johnson is nearing the end of a $39 million contract which will see him earn $13.75 million in 2013. This year, the 28 year old right hander has struggled to find his dominant self. With a whip of 1.337 and H/9 of 9.4, he’s earned himself a career high 4.14 ERA. A problem? Not for the Jays, who tend to like picking up pieces that are having a hard time on their current squads.

You could point to many reasons for Johnson’s struggles this season, but the most often used one has to be his return from an injury plagued 2011. Shoulder issues, something nobody likes to hear when it comes to a pitcher, have drastically altered his value on the trade market. However, if the Marlins don’t deal him now, they could be forced to watch him sit out large periods of time due to injury while paying his $13.75 million salary, something their owner may not be a fan of. Also, if he does stay healthy and makes it through 2013 as a Marlin, how much will he command through an extension? Most likely more than the Marlins are wiling to pay him, due to his shoulder issues. The Marlins, and Johnson, know full well that if he were to hit the FA market healthy after the 2013 season, he could demand big bucks. Therefore, although the Marlins like to tell everyone he’s not on the market, I’ll believe it when the trade deadline passes and he’s still a Marlin.

The problem from the Jays point of view is this: how much value could you possibly put on a pitcher that could simply walk away after the 2013 season? The only answer to that question is that is has to be either a price that makes sense for that duration, or the Jays (or other acquiring team) would have to ask for permission to negotiate a new deal with Johnson before the trade went through, as the Jays allowed the Phillies to do when they dealt Roy Halladay.

What would the Marlins demand and what would the Jays be willing to pay? I’m not certain what that would be, but I can tell you that the Marlins have pressing needs that the Jays could resolve with their top 2 ranked minors system. Whether it’s a package of 3, 4, or 5 prospects, there’s no doubt that some common ground must be achievable if both teams align their expectations. After all, when I see a corner stone player like Hanley Ramirez being dealt for so little, why could the Jays acquire Johnson at a decent price?

With their latest addition being Nathan Eovaldi, the Marlins currently have 6 starters with major league experience in place, and have Jacob Turner on his way up. But it’s when you look at their OF with the likes of Justin Ruggiano and Greg Dobbs, while incumbent Mike Stanton is hurt, that you realize where the Marlins could add value to their lineup. Although Gaby Sanchez was supposed to be their 1B of the future, this year proved that nothing is certain, and the Marlins will likely deal Carlos Lee soon to clear more money off the books. Well, the Jays have plenty of tremendously highly rated OF in their system. The same could be said at 1B, with David Cooper and Michael McDade being candidates. Finally, with an acquisition like Johnson, the Jays could also afford to include some pitching in the deal, whether it be from the minors or majors, something the Marlins will definitely be looking for.

With Josh Johnson on board, the Jays would have a very deep rotation. Romero, Morrow, and injury returnees Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek  would make the 2013 rotation deep and much more experienced than what the Jays had to work with this season. Depending on which pitching the Jays deal to Florida, the Jays would still have plenty of depth from AA and up to make up for what they deal. Assuming Romero and Morrow stay put, the Jays still have J.A. Happ, Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez, Carlos Villanueva, and Aaron Laffey as proven backups. That leaves Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins, Joel Carreno, and others trying to find their way to Toronto as tremendous depth pieces.

The point is what everyone knows. Even if they deal a few “young and ready” pitchers, the Jays still have a heard of young pitchers coming up the ranks to grab a position behind whatever the Jays have in place, possibly as early as mid-2013. Although it’s fun to see young pitchers come up and develop, some leadership and experience goes a long way to allowing those young pitchers to develop at a good pace. And that’s exactly what Johnson would bring with him to Toronto. His presence would relieve some pressure from Romero to be “the guy”, and would enable those two and Morrow to share the leadership role on what would be a very capable rotation.

I know many of you will wonder whether or not it’s worth the risk, and it’s definitely a fair question. Shoulder injuries are serious business when it comes to pitching. But, what I will tell you is that during his 20th start of the season, Johnson did manage to 1 hit the Braves over 6 innings while walking none and striking out 9. Does that sound like a pitcher who’s hurting or tiring? Not one little bit. Although Johnson did struggle the 3 previous starts (4 ER, 5 ER, and 5 ER respectively), that was after a streak of 5 starts with 2 ER or less. Over his last 10 starts, Johnson has a solid 62.1 IP, 3.47 ERA, 54 hits allowed, 17 BB, and 60 Ks. If you ask me, he’s been getting better and stronger all season long.

There is risk involved with all pitchers. It’s inherent within the trade. As the Yankees will tell you after acquiring Michael Pineda from Seattle for a steep price, it hurts when your prized acquisition gets hurt. But, as many other teams will tell you, acquiring the right piece can make all of the difference in the world. The examples are plentiful, and more so than the examples of teams getting burned in the process of acquiring a big arm.

Johnson has been rumoured to want to be close to either Oklahoma or Orange County, making the Jays a long shot to acquiring AND sign him to an extension. With the more plausible scenario being a “good value” acquisition, Alex Anthopoulos will have to work the phones hard to make a deal happen between the Fish and Jays.

But, if the Marlins deal Johnson in the same way as they dealt Hanley Ramirez, the Jays could get a great deal that would serve them well for the next few seasons at a minimum.

The Jays should acquire Johnson if the price is right. Such a move would prove to the fans once and for all that from this point forward, the Jays will invest heavily in the “Now”, as well as the future. If a fire sale from the likes of Jeffrey Loria can finally benefit a team I cheer for, I say all of the power to Anthopoulos and the rest of the Jays brass!

Get him while he’s available! If he is, that is, at the right price.

– MG

Tags: Josh Johnson Ricky Romero

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