Over the course of the 2012 season, the Miami Marlins dealt several players who were originally thought to be key pieces to a potential run at a NL East crown. But by the end of the season, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and Omar Infante (among others) were all donning different uniforms than they wore into spring training.
One name that many figured would be on his way out the door once the Marlins began their "sell-a-thon" was ace righty Josh Johnson. Johnson's name was mentioned in several rumors leading up to the deadline but it was a bit of surprise when we all learned he'd be sticking around, particularly with the other names who did get dealt at a rather rapid pace.
The Marlins' front office is now faced with one of the more difficult decisions that they'll have to make over the next year and that is whether or not to trade their ace and former two-time All-Star. Johnson will be just 29 at the end of January and despite his injury history, there's a good chance he'd want to at least explore the free agent market, especially with the contracts being handed out to starting pitchers in recent years.
For the purposes of this article, let's assume that the Marlins are set on trading Josh Johnson before his contract expires at the end of next season. The most likely opportunities to deal JJ will be during the Winter Meetings in January, as well as just before the non-waiver Trade Deadline next July.
Johnson had an impressive return from his injury-plagued 2011 season by starting 31 games and finishing with an 8-14 record and 3.80 ERA. Though his strikeout and walk rates were not as good as his career averages, he still managed to post a better FIP than free agent Kyle Lohse, the same Kyle Lohse rumored to be looking for anywhere up to $70 million on the market this winter.
If Johnson can stay healthy during the 2013 season, it's likely that the Marlins could cash in on a big-market contender looking to add another starting pitcher for the stretch run. Even just a half-season of Zack Greinke cost the Angels top prospect Jean Segura, as well as two valuable pitching prospects in John Hellweg and Ariel Pena. Johnson's value obviously isn't the same as that of Greinke, but it just goes to show you how much a contending team like the Angels (who made the deal even without the guarantee that Greinke would re-sign at the end of the season) will give up to make that late push for the playoffs. If the Marlins roll into the week of the trade deadline with a healthy and productive Josh Johnson, there's a good chance they could wind up with another productive young player (see Rob Brantly) to build around for the future.
There's no doubt that trading Johnson would hurt the Marlins in the short term, especially if he is dealt before the start of the 2013 season. The absence of Johnson in the Fish's rotation would undoubtedly make it one of the worst in baseball, particularly if recent acquisitions Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi continue to struggle.
The Marlins still have plenty of time to decide when or if a trade of Josh Johnson happens but it goes without saying that the way the front office handles the situation could be another indicator of just how far the organization has to go before they can seriously consider themselves contenders in the National League.