Posted by Wally Londo on 9:18am, Thursday July 16th 2009
As Marlins wait to sign Johnson, he’s more likely to be gone
By Juan C. Rodriguez South Florida Sun-Sentinel
July 14, 2009
From somewhere on that parcel of flattened land in Little Havana, a 10 1/2 -inch high mound will rise. And from that mound in just more than two seasons, someone will throw the first pitch at the Marlins Get your Marlins Tickets now!’ new ballpark.
No need for manager Fredi Gonzalez to name his 2012 Opening Day starter just yet, but he would receive no complaints from Marlins fans if he gave Josh Johnson the nod forthwith. Tonight, Johnson is in St. Louis, where he is representing the Marlins along with shortstop Hanley Ramirez at the All-Star Game.
While the Marlins last season took care of one franchise player, giving Ramirez a six-year, $70 million contract, Johnson is under their control for two more seasons. It’s a little premature to assume Johnson will be in Dodger blue or Yankee pinstripes by 2012, but the longer the Marlins wait to sign him, the more realistic the possibility.
“As long as health is good it’s sort of a perfect storm for JJ,” said Matt Sosnick, Johnson’s San Francisco-based agent, who also represents Ricky Nolasco. “He’s young, he throws hard, he has great stuff. … I understand they’re different pitchers, but I consider JJ and Nolasco both No. 1 starters. Nolasco is a year behind, but both those guys are front-of-the-rotation-type guys who are absolute aces if they stay healthy for the rest of their careers.”
The Marlins have some wiggle room with Nolasco, who won’t qualify for free agency until after 2012. Johnson is a priority and fans are clamoring for the Marlins to eliminate any question surrounding his long-term future.
Drafted in the fourth round in 2002, Johnson would love to prolong his stay with the only organization he’s known.
“It would be awesome,” said Johnson, 25. “Family is first, so it would definitely be great for my family, but that’s what I pay my agent to do, to worry about all that stuff. He’s trying to get me to start thinking about it. For me, I go about my business the same way every day and try not to worry about it.”
The Marlins are mum both on their plan for Johnson and their organizational strategy regarding pitchers and multiyear deals. Team President David Samson has said the Marlins would not sign arbitration-eligible players to multiyear contracts that don’t buy out at least one year of free agency.
This regime does not have much of a track record signing pitchers long term. In 2004, the team made free agent Carl Pavano a three-year offer after his 18-8 All-Star season here. He ultimately signed a four-year, $39.95 million deal with the Yankees.
The Marlins bought out three of Ramirez’s free-agent years at an average of $15 million. That’s a relative bargain considering what Ramirez would have commanded on the open market.
Yet it was worth it for Ramirez because he was still three years away from free agency.
Johnson is only two years away. After next season, as an arbitration-eligible player with more than five years of service time, he can compare himself to all pitchers in the game, not just those with the same amount of service time. That should equate to an eight-figure salary in 2011.
Thus, unless the Marlins put a reasonable offer on the table, they could soon find themselves having to guarantee five or more years at huge numbers, a la A.J. Burnett (five years, $82.5 million) or worse yet CC Sabathia (seven years, $162 million), to keep Johnson.
The same year-to-year approach with Miguel Cabrera led to his salary exploding in arbitration. The Marlins ultimately traded him to the Tigers, who gave him the eight-year, $152.3 million deal the Marlins couldn’t afford.
“[Johnson's] next two years are what they’re going to be in arbitration, but once you get past that the money is pretty mind-boggling for a guy like that,” Sosnick said. “However [the Marlins] decide to approach it, I’m totally comfortable with it. It is within their rights to choose their strategy with their arbitration guys.”
Since 2005, several pitchers in their arbitration years, like Johnson, have signed four-year deals, giving up two free-agent seasons. Some examples: Sabathia ($29.75 million), Johan Santana ($40 million), Ben Sheets ($38.5 million), Tim Hudson ($47 million), Aaron Harang ($36.5 million) and Zack Greinke ($38 million).
In the case of Harang and Hudson, their contracts included fifth-year club options. Perhaps the Marlins would consider a fifth-year vesting option.
So what’s the best cost-effective strategy for the Marlins? Unless Johnson gives them a huge break on the free-agent years, a five-year deal would top $60 million.
Sosnick wouldn’t discuss what Johnson will or won’t consider, but it would behoove them to take a serious look at an offer in the neighborhood of the aforementioned. Johnson would get lifelong security, plus at the end of the deal he’d still be at prime pitching age (30) and able to cash in again.
One difference between Johnson and his counterparts mentioned above is he’s already had a major arm surgery. Sosnick thinks that helps more than it hurts.
“It’s a huge positive,” he said. “His arm is going to be strong. You’re talking about a guy who has very limited soreness after he throws and he’s sitting at 96 mph every game. He’s already been surgically rebuilt and he came back throwing harder. I think his chance of injury is greatly diminished.”
Opening Day 2012 remains far off, but in terms of whether Johnson throws that first pitch, it seems right around the corner.
Couple of things to not here, but most importantly is that there really is no need to worry if you are a marlins fan who likes the look of the big flame throwing righty in our uniform. He’ll be here for two years at minimum, and you have to think once the first shovel hits the dirt in little Havana, signing jj long term is organizational goal number 1.
The agent brings up a somewhat interesting point about his surgery, and how it makes him stronger, but especially in an arbitration case, he’s not going to get more money because he’s been injured, even if his point might be valid. It doesn’t work like that; arbitration cases are pretty old school still.
JJ’s agent is just doing his job, but it’s in his, JJ’s and the Marlins’ best interests to get him signed now. JJ forgoes 8-12 million in his first two free agency years for the comfort of knowing that he is set for the rest of his life, and the Marlins lose the flexibility of year to year but gain the comfort of JJ and Hanley going into the new stadium.
What a great story it would be if they brought JJ out to the groundbreaking on Saturday at the OB site and announced a 4 year, 60 million dollar extension.