Don't think the New York Yankees weren't watching Josh Johnson with great interest tonight. I'm not talking about the befuddled Yankees' hitters, who squeezed out a run during the seven innings Johnson was on the hill. I'm talking about the big boys upstairs, the Hank Steinbrenners and Brian Cashmans. They know that unless the Marlins lock up Johnson before his arbitration years expire after the 2011 season, he probably won't be around to make the Opening Day start for the Marlins when their new ballpark opens in '12. He'll be gone, either through free agency or via a trade as the Marlins look to recoup value for him.
Think the Marlins would offer Johnson a 5-year deal totaling $82.5 million, the one Saturday's loser, A.J. Burnett, struck with the Yankees over the winter? Or a 7-year deal worth $161 million, the contract Sunday's starter for the Bronx Bombers, C.C. Sabathia, signed before the season? Because that's what his agent, Matt Sosnick, thinks Johnson will be worth.
"The way that I think Josh needs to be valued is somewhere between Burnett's contract and Sabathia's contract, and probably closer to Sabathia's," Sosnick said when I phoned him during another Johnson gem. "Josh is that guy in two years."
With Saturday's win, Johnson improved to 14-2 since Tommy John surgery. The Marlins have gone 23-6 in his 29 starts since then. Going into Saturday, he ranked 10th in the majors this season in earned run average, ninth in WHIP, and fifth in batting average against (at least 80 innings pitched). He recorded his 13th quality start, which is tied for the most in the majors. He has emerged as one of the majors' elite pitchers and he is putting up the kinds of numbers that make the big spenders drool with anticipation.
The Marlins seldom offer long-term contracts and are especially reluctant to award them to fragile-armed pitchers. But the time to act is drawing near, as Johnson should get $4 million to $5 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility and much more than that in his final year in 2011.
Hanley Ramirez will be a Marlin when the new ballpark opens. Will Josh Johnson?