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Miami Marlins Should Not Trade Josh Johnson

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The Miami Marlins have pulled off two big trades in two nights, and the rumors continue to swirl. With Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, and Hanley Ramirez all gone, the name that is next on the list is Josh Johnson's, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post seems to be hearing that Johnson is almost assuredly going to be moved.

However, as always with these rumors, they are mixed bags, as ESPN's Jayson Stark said in his latest Rumblings and Grumblings article that he expects the Marlins to retain Johnson.

Well, there's no question the Marlins are going to do a lot of listening -- on Johnson and the rest of this underachieving roster -- in the next six days. But here's our guess on what team Josh Johnson will be pitching for a week from now:

The Miami Marlins.

An official of one club that spoke with the Marlins' brass told the Daily Rumble on Wednesday that he would estimate the odds Johnson stays in Miami at "95 percent."

So you cannot really say whether the Marlins will or will not trade Johnson, since none of these "officials" and "executives" really know. But what we can think about is whether or not the Marlins should trade Josh Johnson.

David Schoenfield of ESPN's SweetSpot blog says the answer is no.

Hey, it's possible Johnson could bring in a big haul -- a left fielder that would allow Logan Morrison to move to first base, a major league-ready pitching prospect, maybe a bullpen arm. But that also leaves you without a guy who has the potential to headline a rotation. At this point, that's not Turner, whose stuff has regressed from high school, as Keith Law wrote Insider earlier Monday.

Schoenfield says that the Marlins should have seen this awful season coming because they were a bad team last year and their additions just have not done all that well (never mind the fact that he himself wrote that the team would win 86 games before the season began). Nevertheless, Schoenfield believes that, if the Marlins do trade Johnson, it leaves them in a precarious 2013 situation and likely in a place to "rebuild" the team's core after a series of trades.

That I would agree with. The Marlins should not trade Josh Johnson because, while the first two trades were reasonable in their own right and allowed for 2013 success, a Josh Johnson trade would take the Marlins firmly out of 2013 contention without legitimate, major-league ready parts coming back.

Johnson =/= Ramirez, Sanchez

The idea that Josh Johnson is a similar trade asset to guys like Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez and thus would be handled similarly and yield similar returns is fallacious. We dealt with a number of the Marlins' trade assets and discussed their values before, and Johnson clearly was the most valuable of all of the team's assets.

Considering Johnson to be a 2.3 WAR pitcher for the rest of the season (based on ZiPS's 2.91 projected ERA) and maybe a 4.5 WAR pitcher in 2013 due to potential injury concerns, a team trading for Johnson could be looking at adding 6.8 WAR to their ledger over the next two years. He is owed $19.25 million over the next two years, meaning Johnson could be worth $14.3 million in trade value. In addition, one can tack on the value of the draft pick a team would receive for Johnson leaving for free agency next year, and that pushes the value up to close to $20 million.

Johnson is worth around $16 million in trade value when you consider the extra sandwich pickl that would be added (I made a mistake on the value of the selection, which would be at around $2.5 million) if he is projected as good as I mentioned above. If teams believe he is better than that and that he has no injury concerns or worries that his inflated 2012 ERA (more than a run above his 2.97 FIP) and BABIP (career-high .338 mark) are real or repeatable, he could go up to $20 million or more in value.

That sort of trade value easily dwarfs anything the Marlins had in Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez, the big players of the last two trades. Even Omar Infante, who had the highest value among all of those players, was only worth $11 million in trade value. Two months Sanchez and Ramirez combined were not worth the value of one season and change of Josh Johnson with his current contract. To equate the value of trading Johnson to that of trading Sanchez or Ramirez would be wrong.

Wrong Motivation

Thus, it would be wrong to equate the motivation of trading those players. The trades the Marlins made thus far were logical, even in the view of attempting to compete in the immediate future of 2013. Sanchez was going to be a free agent and it seemed increasingly certain that the Marlins were not likely to re-sign him. Infante was a necessary asset used to acquire a good piece in return like Jacob Turner, who could be ready by 2013. As for Ramirez, that trade was a little more dubious, but given the recent performance of Ramirez and his $38.5 million remaining in his contract over the next two-plus seasons, the Marlins may have felt that they could do a better job with that money and shed the salary in favor of a free agent pursuit this offseason.

But with Johnson, the motivation is not so clear. Yes, he is making $13.75 million next season in the final year of his four-year extension from before 2010. But unlike Ramirez, Johnson is not drastically under-performing his contract. Even in a down year this season, Johnson has been worth between 1.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) according to Baseball-Reference to 3.1 WAR according to FanGraphs. Even in a down year, Johnson has not been bad at all.

No, if the Marlins trade him at all, it will not be due to being an outgoing free agent or not playing up to your contract. It will be because the team does not believe it can compete in 2013 and is utilizing those season's parts to build strictly for the future. Trading Johnson sends the message that the team is uninterested in attempting to compete in 2013 and is instead interested in resetting a broken farm system that is beginning to get back on its feet. Trading Johnson for parts that are certain to be worse in 2013 than he is will only worsen the club's chances of contending next year while freeing up salary to potential purchase players who are likely to sign for less efficient prices than Johnson.

In other words, if the Marlins trade Josh Johnson, they will both acquire weaker players for 2013 and make less efficient free agent moves to shore up problems resulting from the move. Both situations lead to a worse team in 2013, and with almost no current-value upside to the move, this is almost certainly an admission of non-contention next season. If the team is interested in contending next year, trading Josh Johnson is a wrong move, even if the trade itself is fair. The motivation will have turned to 2014 and beyond instead of 2013, and this current core will have been delayed in their chances to compete for another season.

The Exception

There is an exception to this general idea, however. The current trade scenario in mind at the moment involves the Texas Rangers and top prospect Mike Olt, the 43rd best prospect in baseball in 2012 according to Baseball America. Given his strong season thus far in the minors (.287/.397/.580, .428 wOBA), it is reasonable to believe that if he were acquired, he would immediately fill the third base hole the Marlins have. Then the Fish would have cleared $33.25 million from their 2013 payroll, ideally to be used for free agents.

Here is where the Marlins could make an understandable move that would help in 2013. The club could chase after a premium available starter such as Zack Greinke with the thought that no comparable third baseman is available in the 2013 free agent class. Of the free agent third basemen out there, only Kevin Youkilis is a viable "splash" player who could make a significant impact, and even he has not been very good this year. The Marlins could simply be shifting their resources to try and get the best free agent available and getting good value along the way; with no one potentially available to take over at third base, the Marlins may be looking to fill third base with Johnson and shift the money saved to find another high-quality starting pitcher.

This is the only logical explanation for trading Johnson. If this exact scenario does not happen, then the Marlins will have made an error in judgment by trading Johnson. Since I cannot be certain that this will happen, I would err towards to side of keeping him for 2013.