New York Yankees Trade Watch: Fishing for Josh Johnson

By Craig Williams

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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