It's probably only a coincidence that a few days after being scolded by MLB and the players' union for not spending the money the Yankees are giving them in payroll penalties, the Marlins have wrapped up Josh Johnson for four years at $39 million. Johnson is certainly worth the exception to what has been the rule for the Marlins. Johnson, of course is quite happy and perhaps Dan Uggla now has someone else to be jealous about.
Johnson joins Hanley Ramirez as young, extremely talented players tied up through their arbitration-eligible years and through the first couple of years of free agent eligibility. That has to be exciting for fans of the Marlins that they will be able to watch these amazing talents through the peak years of their careers.
Johnson is certainly worth the money. He was quietly among the best pitchers of the National League last year. His sparkling 15-5 record was not a fluke. If you look at his BABIP for 2009, it was right around .300, right where it should have been (despite a poor fielding team). But he was 7-1 the year before after returning from Tommy John surgery despite a BABIP way high in the upper .300s. That 22-6 record is pretty sweet since his surgery.
He gets little love from the PECOTA system from Baseball Prospectus. But they haven't revised their projections yet to account for 2009 results. And thus, the projections were based on a pitcher that struggled with elbow problems the years before. It seems a given that his projections will improve. Last year was his first as a starter with more than 200 innings pitched and he posted a 3.29 K/BB ratio, which is much higher than his career level of 2.42.
Johnson keeps the ball in the park, strikes out his share of batters, has improved his walk allowed and seems to be on the cusp of being a great pitcher for quite a few years. Of course these things always have to play out to see if he stays healthy. But the risk seems like a good one.
The other thing nice about this deal is that Johnson really wanted to stay with the Marlins. The linked post from MLB.com mentions it several times. So it seems like a perfect deal for everyone involved. Johnson gets to stay where he wanted to stay, the Marlins tie up a budding superstar and Marlins' fans get a little hope that the Marlins are more serious about fielding a good team for a number of years.