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Miami Marlins Need to Make a Tough Decision on Ace Josh Johnson

With the Miami Marlins likely to reduce payroll, thus decreasing the chances of contending in the 2013 season, the Marlins might be best off trading their ace, Josh Johnson, this off-season to fill the many voids that the team currently has.

Drew Hallowell - Getty Images

With Miami Marlins ace Josh Johnson taking the mound against the Atlanta Braves, tonight could in fact be the second to last start for Josh Johnson as a Marlin. The right handed ace will be entering his contract season in 2013, and this off-season could be the last time the Marlins have a chance to cash in the value for JJ.

If the Marlins were to move Johnson, the move would not likely be very popular with the fans, but the front office needs to build a long term contender, not just fill the seats for the new ballpark in 2013. That is why the case for trading Josh Johnson is a complicated one. The Marlins general manager, whether that be Larry Beinfest, Dan Jennings, or someone outside of the organization, will have a very tough decision to make.

Does the team sacrifice it's future to appease the fan base for a single season, or does the front office further alienate the fan base by trading their best pitcher and give up all hopes of making a miracle run in 2013?

As Michael pointed out yesterday, Josh Johnson has been only one in what feels like a million draft prospects under Larry Beinfest's reign that has worked out in recent years. As a homegrown pitcher, it will be a tough decision for the Marlins to make, but the best choice for the Marlins future would be to trade the oft-injured ace. Let's examine the reasons why the Marlins would be better off for trading their ace.

Decreasing Payroll and Unlikely to Contend in 2013

As Miami Marlins beat writers, Joe Frisaro and Clark Spencer, pointed out earlier this week, the Miami Marlins are likely to decrease payroll for the 2013 season.

After going "all in" this season with a franchise-record $95 million roster payroll, the Miami Marlins will likely scale back in 2013 to a more moderate figure, somewhere in the $70 million to $80 million range, sources said.

Multiple sources said the team lost money this season due largely to a high payroll and lower-than-anticipated attendance at the new ballpark. As a result, the Marlins will not be repeating last year’s buying binge, when they spent more than $190 million on free agents.

It is important to note that the Miami Marlins already have 2013 salary commitments of $65.5 million for eight players: Josh Johnson ($13.75 million), Mark Buehrle ($12 million), Ricky Nolasco ($11.5 million), Jose Reyes ($10 million), Heath Bell ($9 million), John Buck ($6.5 million), Greg Dobbs ($1.6 million) and Jacob Turner ($1.175 million).

The Marlins will also have the following players eligible for arbitration:

  • First time: Chris Coghlan, Brett Hayes, Ryan Webb
  • Second time: Emilio Bonifacio, Donnie Murphy

Chris Coghlan could still potentially miss the super two cut-off, which could explain why the Marlins did not give him a September call-up. That would help the Marlins keep the former Rookie of the Year around for one more season on a minimum contract. If Coghlan is eligible for arbitration, he along with Brett Hayes and Donnie Murphy will likely be non-tendered.

Which leaves the Marlins with Ryan Webb and Emilio Bonifacio to receive contracts for the 2013 season. Bonifacio is likely to receive a raise from his $2.2 million salary from the 2012 season, while Webb will likely earn a modest salary to pitch out of the Marlins bullpen.

After you take into consideration all these contracts, the Marlins payroll would fall around $70 million, and that is before you take into consideration the 15 players that will earn the Major League minimum salary. Depending how much financial flexibility the team has, the Marlins would not have much left over to make improvements on the holes that the team has at catcher, first base, second base, third base, left field, and center field.

That would of course be unless the Marlins are able to pull of some trades. Josh Johnson is currently the Marlins biggest trading chip and he could bring in quite a haul for the team to fill some major voids, which I will take a look at in just a moment.

Not only would trading Johnson fill some holes for the Marlins 2013 roster, the team would then be able to reallocate that $13.75 million that Johnson would be set to make in 2013 to fill at least one or two more holes that were not addressed in the trade.

One idea is that the Marlins could use the Josh Johnson money to sign Atlanta Braves center-fielder, Michael Bourn, a move that Michael and I are both advocate. Bourn should earn around $13-15 million on a long term deal. Bourn would be the perfect addition to the man center field, as his speed can cover a lot of ground, and his speedy offensive game would fit right into Marlins park.

Even with Josh Johnson, the Miami Marlins are a long shot to contend in 2013 with their current roster and no major additions. With the 2013 season looking bleak, it would be a smart move for the Marlins to acquire talent to fill holes on the team with a Johnson trade, as well as reallocating the money that Johnson would have made.

Filling the Holes

As I pointed out above, the Miami Marlins 2013 team going into the off-season has plenty of holes. The Marlins do not necessarily have the players to fill all of these holes in their minor league system currently, and the trade of ace Josh Johnson could potentially bring in players that could be long term solutions for those lineup spots.

A team that comes immediately to mind that could be a trade partner with the Miami Marlins for Josh Johnson's services could be the Texas Rangers. The Rangers were heavily involved in Johnson talks leading up to the deadline, but ultimately decided that the Marlins were asking for way too much in return.

Though the Marlins would be unlikely to acquire the Rangers number one prospect, shortstop Jurickson Profar, the Marlins would easily settle for a package built around third baseman Mike Olt. Olt's name came up in the trade talks leading up to the deadline.

Michael Olt has the potential to be a superstar in the league, and he could be the perfect player to team up with Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton to build the team around.

From there, the Marlins could potentially ask for left handed starting pitcher Martin Perez and/or outfielder Leonys Martin. Perez could immediately join Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi in the Marlins 2013 rotation, while the team anticipates the arrival of star studded prospect, Jose Fernandez. With Christian Yelich likely to man either center or left field for the Marlins either mid-way through 2013 or the start of the 2014 season, Martin could take the other position, alongside Giancarlo Stanton, to give the Marlins one of the more promising, young outfields in all of baseball.

That is just one scenario with a team loaded with talented prospects in the Texas Rangers. With the free agent market likely to get expensive, the Marlins could have a few more teams lining up to make solid offers for Johnson.

The Off-Season Will Be the Best Chance to Cash in

Some people may suggest that the Marlins could always wait until the trade deadline before deciding to trade JJ, but a few of factors could make Johnson more valuable during the off-season as opposed to the trade deadline.

We all know by now that Josh Johnson has a checkered injury history. Johnson has had a Tommy John procedure as well as shoulder issues each of the past two seasons, before this one. Johnson has only amassed 200 innings once in his career, and will likely fall short of that plateau again.

If Johnson's injury history were to rear its ugly head again in 2013, with Johnson still in a Marlins uniform, the end result for the Marlins would not be too good. They would lose out on the $13 million for that season, as well as lose a lot of ground in the win column, that they would be struggling to keep up with in the first place.

On the flip side, if Johnson has a monster season, and the Marlins are unable to get what they want for him at the trade deadline, Johnson will likely have maxed himself out of the Marlins price range.

Also, during the off-season, more teams are likely to get involved in the JJ sweepstakes, as opposed to the trade deadline, where only the contenders make moves for a big name player. With more teams involved, the Marlins leverage in any trade would go up, which could potentially boost the potential return the Marlins could get.

Lastly, with the way the new collective bargaining agreement is configured, teams that trade for Johnson during the off-season would be at an advantage as opposed to a team that would acquire him at the trade deadline.The way the CBA is set-up, a player has to be with his current team the entire season for that team to be eligible to receive a draft pick if the player leaves for another team as a free agent.

With Johnson set to become a free agent after the 2013 season, any team potentially acquiring him will want the draft pick compensation to make up for the loss of a player as well as the prospects they traded away to acquire the player.

It could be argued that Johnson would be the best starter on the market, including free agent Zack Grienke. Rest assured that teams will come calling the Marlins for Josh Johnson once they see the enormous price tag that will likely be required for the services of Grienke. The Marlins would be wise to listen to those offers, and if the right one comes along, pull the trigger on a trade to improve the future of the Miami Marlins.

Josh Johnson is one of the few successes that Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest has had in the past few seasons, but he could also be the player that potentially saves his job going forward with the Miami Marlins.

Due to those reasons, Johnson is likely to bring the Marlins in more during the off-season as opposed to the trade deadline or if the Marlins decide to let him play out the 2013 season as a Marlin. It may not be the popular move among the fans, but the Marlins need to realize, building a winner for the long term is a much better investment than trying to scrap together a team without a plan, as they did in 2012, as such a move could be crippling to the long term future of the team.