More on the Johnson extension

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So as promised, I’d figure I’d bring some more of my thoughts on the Josh Johnson extension signed yesterday. Last night, I was extremely excited to see the signing go down, as I’m sure many of you were. Now, having gotten a chance to sleep on it, I figured I could be a little more reasonable about everything. Here’s what I’m thinking about.

Terms of the deal, and the relationship to Zack Greinke

A lot had been previously made about Johnson and agent Matt Sosnick looking for at least Greinke money for a potential deal. Not only was this actually a good sign for the Marlins, given the team-friendly deal that Greinke received in 2007, but it was also totally to be expected given the two pitcher’s similar performances.

2005 Zack Greinke: 2.6 WAR (2nd season)
2006: 0.0 WAR (out all season with depression)
2007: 2.5 WAR (122 innings out of the pen and as a starter)
2008: 4.9 WAR (32 starts and 202 1/3 innings)

WAR totals are from FanGraphs. Before the 2009 season, Greinke signed his four-year, $38M extension. Compare that to Johnson’s track record.

2006 Josh Johnson: 2.5 WAR (rookie season)
2007: 0.2 WAR (out all season with Tommy John surgery)
2008: 2.0 WAR (87 1/3 innings as a starter)
2009: 5.5 WAR (33 starts and 209 innings)

That Johnson signed a deal that gave him only $1M more than Greinke seems absolutely fair given their similar trajectories. There is an argument that, due to the nature of Johnson’s missed time (a legitimate arm injury rather than a psychological condition such as depression), Johnson’s contract should actually have been worth less, as the arm injury is more of a danger for future years. However, you cannot deny how very close the two players were in terms of their path of production.

Does this mean we can expect a 9.4 WAR season (9.0 by Rally’s measure) from Johnson this season? One can only hope!

What about the timing?

Coming off the heels of the hand-slap the Marlins received from MLB and the Players Association regarding the payroll, the extension comes off as sort of a reactionary move. Did the Marlins decide to attempt to seal the deal because the eyes of major league baseball were watching closely?

Perhaps it does look that way, but I do not think it is particularly relevant. It may have been the push the team needed to guarantee a fourth year, but it has very little to do with this week’s announcement that the team needed increase payroll as it heads into the new stadium. Johnson would have undoubtedly taken arbitration for 2010 and 2011 if he remained a Marlin, and the salaries he’ll be paid in these two seasons are very comparable to the arbitration salaries he probably would have received. Thus, with regards to the payrolls for 2010 and 2011, the differences would have been minimal. This issue was primarily regarding the fourth guaranteed year, and obviously the Marlins reconsidered on their stance from earlier this offseason.

What’s next?

Don’t count on the Marlins going long-term for anyone else. Dan Uggla, who is now likely to stick around this season, is an obvious candidate for going year-to-year. Almost all the other players on the roster are either team-controlled, uncertain about their future, or totally expendable once their arbitration time is up. You can bank on all of our remaining arbitration-eligibles being resigned to deals in the next week or so, so the Marlins can best avoid arbitration hearings.

The one name I thought would be of interest is Ricky Nolasco. While perhaps not as good as Johnson, Nolasco had a very good 2008 and a sneaky-good 2009 hidden among the boatloads of untimely hits and runs allowed. We all know his peripherals for the last two seasons have been excellent, and I had thought that a deal could be made. Alas, with the money now sunk into Johnson, I doubt the Marlins would look to eat up more payroll unnecessarily with Nolasco. And sure enough, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com confirmed that the team never considered a long-term offer to Nolasco. It looks as if the team has set the bar for long-term deals extremely high.

Unprecedented Territory

In 2008, when the Marlins signed Hanley Ramirez to the long-term extension that kicked in starting in 2009, I was floored. The deal bought out three seasons of free agency for Ramirez and kept him in south Florida at a far reduced rate for those years. Though $15.5M on average annually is no small amount, it’s a pittance compared to what Ramirez would have likely earned in the free agent market were he available (he would have easily garnered at least a $25M deal). The Johnson deal parallels the sort of discount we see in Ramirez’ offer. Johnson is earning $13.75M in those two free agent years, but I’d hazard a guess that those seasons could have been easily at $18-20M annually for a pitcher of Johnson’s age and presumably 4 – 4.5 WAR production.

So in Ramirez and Johnson the Marlins have set their precedence for long-term contracts, and it’s a tough one. Ramirez is looking to be a generational talent at a premium position, while Johnson is at least an All-Star level pitcher (though he does come with concerns). These are the two players that the Marlins have deemed worthy of long-term deals. Given that knowledge, you have to figure that players like Nolasco, Uggla, and younger guys who don’t develop into perennial All-Stars simply won’t receive a commitment from the team unless significant payroll changes occur due to the new stadium. This is a brand new bar for the Marlins, but it’s a significant one.

How should we feel?

Damn happy. I think this move legitimized the offseason for the team and maintained some of the credibility for the organization. It doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility, but this move seems right in step with what should happen given the public investment into the ballclub’s new stadium. When Opening Day 2012 rolls around and the Marlins can boast having both Johnson and Ramirez in the starting lineup, the team can say that it’s done a decent job.

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