Josh Johnson Earning His Contract

Justin Morneau has the highest WAR in baseball right now, but you probably knew that. Know who is second?

Josh Johnson. With another dominating start last night, the Marlins ace has now thrown 122 innings and is running a 2.33 FIP. Yes, that’s likely to rise over the course of the season (his HR/FB is just 3.8 percent), but for the first half of the season, he’s been basically unhittable.

However, this post is not to praise Johnson as much as it is to ask his agent “what were you thinking?” Six months ago, he signed a four year extension with the Marlins that will pay him $39 million through 2013. He would have been a free agent at the end of the 2012 season, so he gave up two years of free agency in order to sign the deal.

Two other pitchers with the same amount of service time signed long term contracts this winter as well. Felix Hernandez got $78 million over five years, and Justin Verlander got $80 million over five years, both getting about 60 percent more in annual salary than Johnson in addition to an extra year on the end of their deal.

Johnson didn’t have the same track record as either of those two, but he did have – and still has – similar talent levels. He’s out-pitching both of them right now, in fact. If Johnson had not signed a long term deal last winter, he’d be staring at one of the largest arbitration payouts in history this winter, and he’d have enough leverage to command a deal equal to those signed by Hernandez and Verlander a year ago.

Instead, he left a lot of money on the table. A lot. Here’s what he said at the time of the deal:

“I’m excited,” Johnson said. “It sets up me and my family for life. One of the best parts is knowing where I’m going to be the next four years. I won’t have to hear about any trade rumors or anything like that. I’m happy to be in South Florida.”

Johnson was clearly motivated to avoid going year to year, valuing long term security and peace of mind so highly that he signed a contract that makes him one of the most underpaid players in the game, relative to his ability. The next time you hear someone say that players are just all about the money nowadays, remind them of Johnson and his contract. Just like the rest of us, players value a variety of things, and they make decisions on where to work based on a variety of reasons.

We hoped you liked reading Josh Johnson Earning His Contract by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Off the top of my head, I believe he’s scheduled to make $7M next year, an absolute coup for the Fish.

The biggest concern was injury, but as we know, a lot of Tommy John surgery guys come back improved and don’t suffer long-term problems with regards to the surgery (not all, but a lot). I spoke to his agent in the offseason and he mentioned that, even with a season-ending type injury, JJ was going to get arbitration. What he wanted was the security of the second year, and when the Marlins caved on that point, the deal seemed to be a breeze.

Looks like it’ll be a good deal for both sides: the Marlins get ace-level productivity on the cheap for three and a half more years, and Johnson gets the security of knowing where he’ll be working and still gets paid plenty of money.