New York Yankees Trade Watch: Fishing for Josh Johnson

The New York Yankees are always the favorite to take home the Hot Stove title each season.  Unfortunately, that championship banner only consists of a sheet of paper and nobody cares about it by the time the first of June rolls around.  This offseason is no different as most people – whether its Buster Olney, the guys running the blogs (like me) or your buddies at work – expect the New York Yankees to make a lot more noise heading into 2012 than they did heading into 2011.  With trade chips to dangle, high profile free agents to court and money to spend (from our perspective at least) there is plenty of reason to expect the New York Yankees to make a big splash or two in the coming months.  It’s that first group that is capturing my intrigue and throughout the winter, I’ll be focusing on a few potential trade targets that might look good in a New York Yankees uniform.

Before I really kick off this post highlighting Josh Johnson, I should say something.  I’m not really the biggest fan of putting together hypothetical trade packages so you won’t see much of that in these posts.  Too many factors that an outsider isn’t aware of, not to mention the fact that no matter how objective I try to be almost any package I propose is likely to be slanted in the Yankees’ favor.  Some players’ prices might be heftier than others, but just to keep things simple we’re going to assume that the Yanks can meet the price of the highlighted player if they choose.  Moving on.

Why Josh Johnson?

First and foremost, the dude is a beast when he’s healthy (health is something that I’ll touch on later).  His fastball (93.9 MPH since 2005) and slider (86.3 MPH since 2005) are his bread and butter, but he mixes in the occasional change-up and started to incorporate a curve in 2011 as well.  Johnson has used his arsenal to rack up strikeouts and grounders in bunches.  He possesses career strikeout and groundball rates of  8.28 per nine innings and 47.6% respectively.  Not only that, but he’s only allowed half a home run per game since 2008 and he doesn’t walk many people either.  I would point to his very solid career mark of 3.02 BB/9, but that would ignore the fact that his walk rate has rested under 3.00 since 2008.

So we’ve got a power pitcher who works in the low-mid 90′s, racks up K’s, keeps the ball on the ground, in the park and doesn’t issue free passes.  Anybody else drooling yet?  Even a little bit?  The talent is clearly there, and the contract is pretty friendly too.  Johnson has two years left on his deal at $27.5 million which is probably a bargain for a guy that would immediately slot in behind CC Sabathia and be a No. 1A starter let alone a No. 2.  Also, at 28 he’ll be right in the middle of his prime and still young enough to lock up for up to five more seasons once his current deal expires.

Why MIGHT the Yankees Be Able to Pry Johnson Away from Miami Marlins?

As I read over the first paragraph, I did a pretty good job of explaining why the Miami Marlins (that name change is official, right?) won’t trade Josh Johnson.  As talented as he is, I can still see some potential reasons why the Marlins might listen intently to any offers on their righty and may even engage in some negotiations.  The primary reason is durability.  He only has one 200+ IP season to his credit and only one other season of at least 180 frames.  He missed the majority of this past season – 122 games to be exact – due to shoulder inflammation.  This wasn’t the first time either as he missed roughly 6-7 starts in 2010 due to the same problem.  Additionally, he is a Tommy John surgery survivor.  Undergoing TJS is almost a rite of passage these days, but it is still requires pause.  The injury history is concerning, but it hasn’t reached a Mark Prior level quite yet so its not as if the Marlins are necessarily going to be looking to cut bait.  Add his increasing salary to the equation though and the situation becomes a bit murkier.

While $13.75 million over each of the next two seasons might be friendly for the Yankees, that represents a substantial chunk of the Marlins payroll.  Even though they are moving into a new ballpark and indicating a willingness to open up the wallet this offseason, they still won’t be able to withstand the blow of having $13.75 million sitting on the disabled list – very few teams can.  Surely, the Marlins would love Josh Johnson to make their first start of 2012, but that desire wanes if they have serious doubts about his ability to endure the entire season and make his final start in 2012.

Finally, I mentioned that the Marlins are ready and willing to make a big splash this offseason as they look to open their new home with a bang.  Do they go after Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, or C.J. Wilson?  Yu Darvish? Albert Pujols??  Maybe its a combination.  We’ll have to wait and see.  With options available to be reeled in, it is not ludicrous to imagine a scenario in which the Marlins consider moving Johnson to free up some extra cash.  For my money, I’d prefer Josh Johnson over Darvish and Wilson, but I’m sitting in front of a computer in a Hugh Hefner robe.  What do I know?

Final Thoughts

I love the idea of the Yankees going after Johnson, but I am very conscious of the significant risk involved.  Of course, you could argue that almost any pitcher that the Yankees might pursue in a trade is a risk simply due to the position he plays.  The Yankees are well aware of the injury risks associated with Johnson and will work overtime analyzing and evaluating any and all medical information that is available if they do pursue him.  Feel free to let me know if I’m being too hopeful here, but I can’t help but think that Brian Cashman would be able to work out a slight discount if the two teams meet at the trade table.

There is a lot of risk associated with trading for Josh Johnson, but it might be a risk worth taking and a price worth paying as Josh Johnson has all of the tools to be a Cy Young candidate – even in the AL (b)East.

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  • Josh

    You sir are out of our head. There is NO way the Marlins would trade away Josh Johnson what so ever…

    • craigwilliams

      Haha, maybe I am.

  • Bill

    Yea I like the idea of going after Johnson. I say the risk is worth the reward. And the Yankees have some pitching issues they need to address. Granted he can stay healthy that would be a dangerous 1 2 punch with CC at the helm.

    • craigwilliams

      Yea, that would be an incredible 1-2 if each lasted for a full slate of 34-35 starts. Would take even more pressure off of the Yankees in the construction of the back end of the rotation.

  • Taylor Gaines

    What do you think the odds are of this actually happening?

    • craigwilliams

      I don’t think the chances are great. The same way the Yankees shouldn’t/can’t trade Hughes or Joba at low points, the Marlins probably wouldn’t move Johnson at a low(er) point. At the same time, I don’t think it would be the craziest thing that we’ve seen. One thing that I would say is this: sometimes the guys that get moved are the ones that you don’t hear a bunch of noise about.

  • David

    Who will they trade not Montero not Hughes maybe Burnett??

    • craigwilliams

      Still several moves to be made by each team before any potential trade talks go down (at least I imagine). The price would be steep though. Burnett wouldn’t get it done, but all of the top prospects, in addition to guys like Hughes, Nova and Noesi would at least be targets.

  • Beezie

    The Marlins are out to spend money because they are moving to Miami this coming season, they are rumored to be looking at EVERY big name available so besides typing to type this will NEVER happen.

    • craigwilliams

      Perhaps not. I touched on the willingness to open up the wallet this offseason and the smart money is definitely on them holding on to Josh Johnson, but I just wouldn’t dismiss it 100%. If you wanna go 99%, that’s fine, just keep that one percent free. Crazier things have happened.

  • Bob

    C’mon dude….really?! Johnson is going nowhere for 3 good reasons.

    1. The Marlins are going into a new stadium. They are looking to make a splash in their first season in Miami by signing Reyes, Pujols or Fielder. Trading Johnson turns that splash into a “bellyflop”.

    2. Johnson is coming off a serious injury. His trade value is at its LOWEST right now. This is by far the worst time to try to trade him. Any GM with 2 brain cells to rub together knows this. If he gets traded, it’s at midseason, but only IF the Marlins are out of it and only AFTER he’s proven he’s healthy.

    3. You don’t trade away your #1 starter unless you’re rebuilding or he’s in his walk year and probably won’t re-sign with you.. See point #1 about the Marlins rebuilding…they are NOT. And in your OWN words, Johnson has TWO years left.

    But hey…what do I know. lol

    • craigwilliams

      You know what? Those are three good reasons why Josh Johnson probably won’t go anywhere and I’m not going to try to directly oppose you on those reasons. I will, however, bring up a couple of considerations:

      1. What if the big splash includes signing some combination of C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish and Edwin Jackson and/or perhaps trading for another starter as some people have suggested on other sites? Not saying that someone will replace what a healthy Johnson can do, but if it gets to the point where the Marlins feel like they end up with enough pitching (I realize that’s an oxymoron) maybe they become a bit more open about moving him for the right package.

      2. The injury was obviously serious enough for him to miss significant time, but it wasn’t as if he had to undergo surgery. You’re definitely right about his value being at the lowest point since his recovery from TJS in 2007-2008, but is it low enough that opposing G.M.s absolutely have to wait and see how he returns? That’s more of a rhetorical question, but I think more teams would be willing to roll the dice in this case and deliver a package that is at least close to Johnson’s true value.

      I admit, this is probably more of a fantasy than a reality and a way to get some people talking. However, I don’t think its QUITE as far fetched as some people are making it out to be. Everybody has a price.

    • Frank Campagnola

      For number three, that’s simply not true. Plenty of aces have been dealt with two years left on their contracts, including Dan Haren and Zack Greinke in recent years.