The troubles the Minnesota Twins have had in their starting rotation this season are clear, as injuries, poor performance and a lack of top-end prospects in the minor league pipeline have combined to be the top reason for the team’s overall struggles in 2012.
With the Miami Marlins currently sitting below .500 in their first year in a new ballpark after spending lavishly on free agents last offseason, recent speculation has suggested they will go into full “sell” mode as the July 31 trade deadline nears. One interesting name, should he be made available, is starting pitcher Josh Johnson.
Johnson has been fairly ordinary so far in 2012, going 5-6 with a 4.28 ERA in 18 starts (107.1 innings) heading into his next scheduled start Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs. He has allowed 10 runs over 10.1 innings over his last two starts to help inflate that ERA, but in his 10 starts prior to that he was 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 65.2 innings while not allowing more than three runs in any outing. The biggest thing right now is that Johnson seems to be healthy, even with some speculation earlier in the season he was not, as he was limited to just nine starts in 2011 (3-1. 1.64 ERA, 60.1 innings) by a shoulder issue that lingered from the end of the 2010 season. He also underwent Tommy John surgery that limited him to a combined 17 starts in the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
But there is no denying Johnson’s talent when healthy, as evidenced by his 2010 campaign when he went 11-6 with a National League-leading 2.30 ERA over 183.2 innings (28 starts). He also finished fifth in the Cy Young voting and earned his second straight All-Star selection that season. He is still just 28 years old, so it’s fair to say he has plenty of good seasons left if he can stay healthy. He is earning $13.75 million this season and is due to make the same in 2013 before being eligible to become a free agent. For his career Johnson has a 3.15 ERA along with a 8.2 K/9 rate and 3.0 BB/9 rate, but as could be expected he has only pitched more than 190 innings and started 30 or more games once.
It’s becoming clear that any hope the Twins have to return to contention in the next few years rests on their ability to add some top level pitching on all levels of the organization, and Johnson may qualify as an excellent buy-low candidate right now if the Marlins become committed to shedding some salary.
Even if nothing happens before the end of July, the offseason may present another opportunity for the Twins to make an offer for Johnson. Since he will be entering his walk year at that point, Miami may be simply looking to get something for him rather than risk losing him for nothing after next season. Johnson’s health concerns, even if he is able to stay healthy througout 2012, will affect what the Marlins can get in a trade as well. So the Twins are unlikely to have to part with any of their top prospects in what has proven to be a thin minor league system, which stands to make Johnson a solid trade target for them even with the inherent injury risk.