Mackey: Should Twins consider Josh Johnson if Marlins elect to sell?
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MINNEAPOLIS -- According to league sources, Miami Marlins decision-makers -- frustrated after an off-season spending spree led to three-plus months of sub.-500 baseball -- are strongly considering entering sell mode.
Heading into Tuesday the Marlins (43-46) sat nine games out of first place in the National League East, looking up at three teams. Miami also has a -61 run differential and several underachieving players, including Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and to a certain extent Hanley Ramirez.
Sources say the Marlins would consider trading Bell, Ramirez and Josh Johnson, among several others.
A source close to Johnson said Monday it's "very doubtful" the 28-year-old right-hander will be moved prior to the July 31 deadline. But if the Marlins make him available, Johnson could be an intriguing name for the Minnesota Twins to keep an eye on.
The Twins are desperate for top-end pitching, and Johnson -- when healthy -- is one of the best in the majors. In 832 2/3 career major league innings, Johnson -- born in Minneapolis -- owns a 3.15 ERA while striking out 8.2 batters per nine innings. He also has allowed only 51 home runs in 131 career starts.
As a 26-year-old in 2010, Johnson posted a league-leading 2.30 ERA in 183 2/3 innings and finished fifth in Cy Young Award voting. He throws a 93-mph fastball and a slider in the mid- to upper-80's while also mixing in a slower curveball and a changeup.
Coming off an injury-plagued season in 2011, Johnson owns a 4.28 ERA with 91 strikeouts in 107 1/3 innings, which could make him a prime buy-low candidate.
Johnson is being paid $13.75 million this year and next year before hitting free agency in the fall of 2013, so he wouldn't be under team control very long, but an extension would be possible.
Sources say the Marlins aren't necessarily looking at dumping salary, but if they were to trade Johnson they'd want younger talent in return. If the Twins wanted to make something work they could deal Francisco Liriano ($5.5 million) and Matt Capps ($4.75 million) for prospects and then trade prospects for Johnson.
Edit: Capps could be headed back to the disabled list with more shoulder discomfort. Denard Span ($4.75 million next year) is another possible trade candidate.
The biggest red flag for Johnson is health. He missed more than four months in 2011 due to shoulder inflammation, and also all of September in 2010 with the same issue. Tommy John surgery knocked him out for a year in 2007-2008.
Two consecutive years of shoulder inflammation with no surgery might scare teams away from Johnson, and the Twins are certainly no strangers to losing pitchers to injury.
But as long as the Pohlads maintain a payroll north of $90 million, and as long as Joe Mauer -- still in his prime -- is still the $23 million centerpiece of the roster, it likely makes sense for the Twins to continue pushing toward building a contender.
That mission starts by acquiring top-end starting pitching.