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Marlins Should Wear Out Josh Johnson

Josh Johnson's arm may be the most important arm to the Miami Marlins in 2012. It may also not be of much importance to the team in 2014.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Josh Johnson's arm may be the most important arm to the Miami Marlins in 2012. It may also not be of much importance to the team in 2014. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Earlier this week, Ehsan Kassim of Marlin Maniac asked a very interesting question, one that seems very pertinent to the 2012 season.

The Marlins will need a fully healthy Josh Johnson in 2012 for any chance to compete. My question is for you guys, do the Marlins need Johnson to go all out and throw 200 innings or should the Marlins be conservative with the oft-injured hurler?

Of course, we are not certain about what this question means. What does he mean by "conservative" versus a more aggressive 200-inning approach with Josh Johnson? But I believe the general point is a good one to bring up. The Marlins' 2012 season hinges on a successful campaign from Johnson, but is pushing him as much as we can without innings limits beneficial or deterimental to the team's short- and long-term chances?

From the team's standpoint, this is not even a question: the Marlins should get all they can from Josh Johnson. Provided there is not anything overtly wrong with his arm and shoulder, the team should value his current production over his future health.

Disappearing Asset

Obviously, the Marlins care about Josh Johnson and his health for reasons beyond the team's immediate success. He is a part of the team and, as a result, a part of their family. As a player and a person, he is clearly a valued member of the team. But if you take away the aspect of his relationship with the team, the Marlins have a very important asset to the team's immediate success. That asset is not only very important now, but it may not be as important in the near future.

Johnson's bout with shoulder problems in 2011 was one of the major reasons why the Fish struggled last year. Without their ace in 2011, the Marlins easily lost three or four wins by throwing out replacement level rubble in his stead. The team's chances with a decently healthy Johnson are still in the fringes, so losing any innings from Johnson severely cuts into the Marlins' chances in 2012. With the slew of moves the club made, the team is in an immediate position to win now because so many of their contracts run out in 2014 or 2015.

One of those contracts is actually Johnson's, as he is signed for two more seasons at $13.5 million a year. This is perhaps the most important reason for why the Marlins should unleash Johnson and allow him to be a workhorse if he can handle that role: the team is working on limited time with Johnson. With his benefits restricted to the next two years, the club needs to get most out of Johnson so they can get the most out of this current until-2015 core and potentially earn a playoff berth or better with it. The more limitations on his work, the less the team can benefit on those two remaining seasons to which they committed payment.

The long-term ramifications of Johnson's health, from a strictly asset-based standpoint, may very well not be a concern for the Marlins. Since his contract runs out after the 2013 season, the Fish are not restricted by what may happen to his shoulder in 2015 or 2016 as of right now. Yes, the club could be considering an extension for Johnson to keep him a Marlin for a while, but as of right now, his long-term health is not as important to the Fish as the short-term gains of his performance. Should he falter in the years after 2013 in part as a result of his work in 2012 and 2013, the Marlins will not be held back by those problems because he will not be under contract.

As a result of these two very synergistic aspects of the Johnson-Marlins situation, it seems only logical that the Marlins push Johnson to his limits and let him pitch without restriction rather than coddling him. Note that this would have been drastically different one or two seasons ago. Had we been dealing with a problem when Johnson was fresh off of his contract extension, the Marlins would have been right to be more careful with him. The Marlins would have been responsible for three or four more years of his deal, meaning more of the future ramifications would have fallen under their purview. But because Johnson is only tied to the Fish for two more seasons, the team can relax its restrictions and let him work.

Asset Versus Player Versus Person

Now the above may sound fairly callous, but from a business and team-running standpoint, it makes sense. From a "we're a team and a family" standpoint, obviously there are limits on how much the Marlins can really push Johnson's health. As a member of the team, the doctors, front office personnel, and management all have an interest in his safety. It is one thing to be careful with uncertainty as to whether the need is there or not, but it is another thing to be reckless with a person's health. In this case, I am advocating that the Fish be less careful with his unknown health status than they were in the last two years, simply because the benefit of that is outweighed by the loss in performance.

But Johnson's performance is also limited by his health. If the Marlins' staff sees that he is struggling because of arm troubles, there should be no question that Johnson should be pulled and examined carefully. Why risk a player's health when that behavior also ruins his immediate performance? The team has to find a fine balance in this case between detriment to his current performance and health and detriment to the team's balance sheet as a depreciating asset.

As in all things, the decisions involving Johnson's health and performance will have to be monitored early in Spring Training and the opening of the season. But if complaints are light or vague, I think the best move for the Marlins is to let loose the reigns and allow Johnson to pitch to his full effectiveness. There should be no need to coddle his arm for a future that may not come with the team.