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Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Marlins should hold on to Josh Johnson

By David Schoenfield



Which best describes the Miami Marlins?

(A) Train wreck
(B) Artistic disaster
(C) Something to watch until the Miami Heat's season begins
(D) Should have seen this coming

And the correct answer ... (D). There's nothing that surprising about the Marlins being 45-51 with the fifth-worst run differential in the majors.

After all, the Marlins weren't a good team in 2011, finishing 72-90 and getting outscored by 77 runs. Their three big free-agent signings have resulted in mixed yet predictable results: Mark Buehrle has been solid as ever, Jose Reyes has been unable to repeat his career 2011 season and Heath Bell hasn't been as good removed from PetCo Park (OK, didn't think he'd be this bad). Throw in trade acquisition Carlos Zambrano -- guess what, he's just as mediocre and wild as last year -- and there just wasn't enough new talent to ensure this would be a playoff team.

No, the one guy the Marlins were most counting on was ace starter Josh Johnson. On Monday, he pitched like the guy who began 2011 in dominating fashion before getting injured. He allowed one hit in six innings in the Marlins' 2-1 victory over the Braves, striking out nine and walking zero. Seven of the K's came on breaking pitches. It was vintage Johnson, his first scoreless start of the season, after delivering eight such games in 2010-11 over 37 starts.

On the heels of Anibal Sanchez's trade to the Tigers, Johnson's outing will only serve to fuel trade rumors. He's signed through next season ($13.75 million salary in both 2012 and 2013) and that extra year means he conceivably could bring more in return than Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke. His 4.14 ERA is mediocre but his peripheral numbers are still solid: 105 strikeouts, 35 walks and seven home runs in 119.2 innings. As he showed Monday, Johnson can still bring ace-caliber stuff.

So should the Marlins trade him? Even though the Sanchez trade signals a punt on 2012, I don't think they should deal Johnson. Think about where that puts the Marlins for 2013:

1. A rotation of Buehrle, the inconsistent Ricky Nolasco, the unproven Jacob Turner ... and, well, I guess whatever you get for Johnson. Jose Fernandez, their top prospect, recently got promoted to high Class A, so he's likely looking at a 2014 arrival.

2. A very unhappy Ozzie Guillen, although I guess that headache could be resolved easily enough.

3. The possibility of losing a portion of the new fan base created this season. The Marlins have already suffered through two sell-offs in franchise history. A third, on the heels of the new park, would serve only to further alienate fans.

Anyway, can you imagine the uproar in South Florida if Johnson is traded? New ballpark, free agents ... and you give up on this group of players after four months? Can't wait to see Ozzie's reaction if it happens.

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.

But maybe the Marlins see Johnson as a health risk who has only pitched 200 innings once in his career. Cash in now while you can get something good for him.

Do that, and you can begin that cycle again -- hoping, I guess, to be competitive before Giancarlo Stanton reaches free agency.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Carlos Santana
Just call Carlos Santana Mr. Helper when he's behind the dish.