The Miami Marlins' mega-trade with the Toronto Blue Jays is still being discussed more than a week later, and its merits have been more than covered here by the crew at Fish Stripes. Among the pieces that left from the Marlins is Josh Johnson, an original member of the 2006 era team and one of the last vestiges of that squad to finish out the 2012 season. With one more season remaining in Johnson's contract, the likely original plan with the Marlins was to hold onto him for the remainder of his deal and make a decision on his Marlins future after 2013. Had the team been competitive in 2012, we would likely see Johnson, along with a number of other Marlins, still in a Marlins uniform now. Alas, the team faltered badly in 2012, and as a result Johnson was traded along with four other players to the Blue Jays.
Johnson himself certainly earned himself an overlook of his Marlins career because, in seven seasons on the Marlins, he may have been the most talented, productive, yet at the same time injury-prone pitcher in Marlins history. When we look back on the Marlins in the years to come, Josh Johnson's name will come up on the list of the best Marlins pitchers in team history.
No matter how you slice it, Johnson was the best pitcher in Marlins history. In terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Johnson racked up more WAR in both the FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference versions than any other Marlins pitcher. He is the only Marlins pitcher to put up more than 20 WAR as a Marlins starter in his career. He is one of six pitchers under the Baseball-Reference WAR (rWAR) system and eight pitchers under the FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) system to put up more than 10 WAR as a Marlins starter, leaving him in exclusive company among Marlins pitchers.
Of course, part of the reason why Johnson did so well as a Marlin is because he was one of the longest-tenured Marlins in team history. Johnson has thrown the third-highest number of innings as a Marlins pitcher in team history, behind only 1000-inning club members Dontrelle Willis and Ricky Nolasco. Johnson made his first appearance as a Marlin in 2005 and his last in 2012, meaning he stuck around in parts of seven seasons with the Fish, a feat that no other Marlins pitcher has accomplished.
Among Marlins pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched on the team (12 pitchers in total), Johnson has the lowest ERA and best ERA- (ERA compared to the league average) among Marlins pitchers. Not only has Johnson lasted long as a Marlins pitcher, but he did so with the best rate stats in team history. Both in rate and longevity, Johnson has proven to be the best Marlins pitcher of all time.
Johnson also set a precedence for the Marlins in that he was the first pitcher to whom the team ever handed a long-term extension. Johnson signed a four-year extension before the 2010 season after it was becoming increasingly apparent that, without a deal, he would leave after 2011 as a free agent. At the time, Johnson was coming off of his most successful season, and in each healthy year that he pitched, he had performed brilliantly, so an extension seemed like a necessity for the organization.
After the Marlins were reprimanded for a lack of spending, the team signed Johnson to the deal. At the time, the hangup was that Johnson was looking for at least a four-year deal, but the Marlins were not interested in anything beyond three seasons. The rates of the initial offer were also well below market value, and at some point it seemed negotiations were tenuous and that it was unlikely that a deal would get done. Some time in January of that offseason, however, the Marlins and Johnson were able to get a deal done that should have kept him through the 2012 era Fish.
History of Injuries
There is yet another category in which Johnson leads the Marlins in team history, and that is injuries. As a pitcher, one expects teams to lose pitchers due to injury, but Johnson has earned himself the label of injury-prone by missing multiple seasons with injuries. Despite being with the team for the same number of seasons as Nolasco, Johnson has thrown almost 200 fewer innings than Nolasco. While Nolasco only missed one season of significant playing time and has since been a workhorse (an unreliable one, but a workhorse nonetheless), Johnson has vacillated between 180-inning performer and "out for the season" multiple times.
His sordid injury history began in 2006, when he was thrown out for an extra inning after a long rain delay by then-manager Joe Girardi and left with elbow discomfort. He started the 2007 season terribly and was shut down, eventually requiring Tommy John surgery. He returned from surgery late in 2008, but put up strong numbers heading into his breakout 2009 season. He had two healthy years after that, but even those seasons had some harbingers of injury problems. In 2010, Johnson was shut down for the last month of the season due to shoulder and back injuries, and that may have been connected to his eventual 2011 shutdown which cost him more than two-thirds of that season.
In total, Johnson has spent 464 days of his time and 403 games in his time with the Marlins. That is almost 2.5 seasons worth of games that Johnson has missed in his six-year tenure with the Fish. Had he been able to stay healthy, who knows how much better he would have been.
Johnson leaves the Marlins as the best pitcher in team history, but he also leaves a checkered past as a player who could not stay on the field. Had he been able to remain healthy, his legacy as a Marlin may be a bit brighter, but because of the injury history, it is difficult to look upon his career as truly successful. As good as he was while he was on the field, fans will always wonder how good he could have been had he been able to stay on the field long enough. Still, that should diminish his great accomplishments as a true Miami Marlin.