Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners Should Pursue Josh Johnson


It was revealed Monday that the Toronto Blue Jays will not be making a qualifying offer to starting pitcher Josh Johnson. While this isn’t overly surprising, it still represents an opportunity for the Mariners to bone up the rotation a little bit.

Yes, I know he had a terrible year in Toronto, but hear me out on this one.

Johnson went to Toronto as part of last year’s mega-deal between the Jays and the Miami Marlins. At the time there was a lot of hype around Johnson because he was still riding high after back-to-back All-Star selections (2009-10).

Johnson was supposed to be part of a killer rotation that was poised to take Toronto all the way to the World Series. Instead, the Jays floundered all season, and disappointed Toronto yet again.

Johnson had a weak 2013 season too, pitching an embarrassing 2-8. Moreover, his ERA jumped nearly half a run from 3.15 to 3.40, All over 16 starts (ERA of 6.20 for 2013). He gave up 1.7 home runs per 9 innings, and he ended the season early with a strained right forearm (which thankfully doesn’t need surgery).

A qualifying offer to Johnson would cost the Jays $14.1 million, so it’s no wonder they are simply letting him go. There’s no team in baseball that would pay so much for a guy coming off of that season.

On the other hand, this represents a chance for the Mariners to swoop in and snag Johnson at a much-lower-than-retail-value price. I would expect that Johnson is still hoping to get a fair amount of money given his history, but since he doesn’t have a lot of leverage right now, why not low-ball an offer to him and see where it takes you?

Yes, that was a bad year, but Johnson still has a lot of time left in the majors (he’s 29). Lets not forget that he did have a number of good seasons in Miami, and there’s always the possibility of a bounce-back season.

Look at Pittsburgh’s Francisco Liriano this season. 2012 was an attrocious year for Liriano, he pitched a 6-12 record and an inflated 5.34 ERA (between the Chicaco Cubs and Minnesota Twins).  Liriano went to Pittsburgh in 2013 and immediately made a statement, he was back.

He went 16-8, with an ERA of 3.20. He went from 1.1 HR/9, to 0.5, and all for the low-low price of $1,000,000. That’s right, former All-Star and former Rookie of the Year Candidate, Francisco Liriano pitched a 16-win season for only a million dollars.

I’m not saying that if the Mariners pick up Josh Johnson that he will have a turnaround season at a steal of a price, but I’m saying it’s possible.

On the surface, Johnson might seem like a bit of a gamble. But for the right price, you’d be getting pretty good odds. Worst case scenario is that he turns out to be a dud and the M’s blow a bit of money on him. But the best case scenario is that he comes out of the gate throwing darts and the M’s gain an All-Star pitcher for Bench-Warmer prices.

As a former Cy-Young candidate, Johnson certainly has proven in the past that he has the right stuff. I like to think of 2013 as an outlier for Johnson’s career, it was bad, but why not give him a chance.

The Mariners have done this in the past, most recently with Jason Bay. The M’s brought him in from the Mets where he was making upwards of $18 mil a season.

He was signed to a one-year, $1 million deal, but he just didn’t pan out (I don’t think any of us were surprised though). He was on the market for cheap, so the M’s took a stab at him. When it didn’t work out they sent him packing and lost the gamble.

Like the Bay deal, bringing in Johnson doesn’t represent any risk to the Mariners other than cost. Hopefully Jack and co. are pulling out all the stops this year and money will flow a little bit more freely too.

It should be noted that Johnson won’t be a long-term guy in Seattle, he’ll sign for a few years and hope to bounce back and earn back some value. But he certainly warrants the attention. Dan also points out that Johnson could be low on the radar this winter because of other high-caliber starters on the market. Matt Garza and AJ Burnett likely to be the most interesting.

If the Mariners chose to chase Masahiro Tanaka (and I hope they do), then Josh Johnson would be a complimentary piece to the puzzle. Johnson could theoretically be had for relatively cheap, leaving room in the budget for the M’s to woo Tanaka.

Hopefully, Johnson flies under the radar a little bit this off-season, the M’s pitch him a low-ball offer and he comes to Seattle for a few years and finds his groove again. Josh Johnson could make a great addition to the Mariners rotation (if the price is right).

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