Marlins’ Plight the Cubs’ Answer? How About Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson?

The Marlins started imploding earlier this year, just a few months after a bunch of bright and shiny additions failed to (1) bring fans to the ballpark, or (2) bring wins to the record book. And, in a continuation of that implosion, they are expected to sell of as many of their shiny additions as they can this offseason.

Does that plan impact the Cubs, who will be looking to pick up, among other things, some starting pitching? Sources tell Bruce Levine that the Marlins plan to move their higher salaried starting pitchers – Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in particular – and Levine sees a fit with the Cubs. From Bruce, over at ESPNChicago:

Johnson’s contract appears to fit into the Cubs’ short-term plans. The 28-year-old pitcher has one year remaining on a long-term contract at $ 13.750 million for 2013. The Marlins will look for younger prospects and as much payroll relief they can get in each deal they make.

The Cubs have $50 million coming off their 2012 payroll commitments. It appears they will be willing to add contracts such as Johnson’s due to the flexibility of his current status. He will be eligible for free agency after 2013.

Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are looking for quality pitchers that they can either sign to long-term deals or flip before the July 31 trading deadline for other potential pitching prospects.

The sources indicated that the Marlins would approach the Cubs and other teams with the payroll flexibility to take on most of the money owed on the contracts for Buehrle and Johnson.

The connection there is relatively thin (it amounts to little more than “the Cubs need pitchers, the Marlins will probably be selling pitchers, and the Cubs have money”), but opens up a discussion about the Cubs’ ability to/interest in acquiring veteran pitchers via trade, rather than signing them as free agents.

On the one hand, guys like Buehrle and Johnson are more attractive than a number of the lesser tier starting pitchers on the free agent market. On the other hand, those lesser tier starting pitchers cost only money. While the Marlins are looking to save salary (Buehrle’s contract, in particular, is scary: it pays him $11 million in 2013, $18 million in 2014, and $19 million in 2015), they’ll also be looking to pick up some quality prospects in the process.

The real problem there for the Cubs is not an inability to put together a package capable of landing one of those two guys, nor is it the inability to take on their salaries. The problem is that the Cubs would be competing in the trade market with teams much closer to competitiveness – and thus much more interested in adding veteran starters – who could be willing to part with a steep package of prospects. To which team is Buehrle a more compelling addition: a team two+ years off from realistic competitiveness, or a team just on the cusp (like, say, the O’s), who just needs another pitcher? It’s undoubtedly the latter, and in a scarce market, they would be willing to pay the most.

Are the Cubs going to outbid the rest of the market in prospects (the Cubs aren’t going to be the only team willing to take on the salary) just so that they can try and get more prospects for these guys at the deadline? That doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, unless the Cubs are going to try and “go for it” in 2013, and would sell these guys off only if the plan flops. Either way, there are probably better avenues.

That all said, I do think the Cubs will consider trade alternatives for picking up pitching. I also think that, while their preference will be for under-30 types with multiple years of control, you can’t always get that – especially if you’re looking for a front half of the rotation type. Buehrle and Johnson? I’m not sure they’re the best fits thanks to the expected price tag, as well as the age (Buehrle turns 34 next year) and control (Johnson is a free agent after 2013). Buehrle is coming off one his his standard 200+ inning, sub-4.00 ERA seasons, and there’s no reason to suspect an immediate drop-off is looming. Johnson, on the other hand, is always an injury risk. And, although he was healthy in 2012, he wasn’t his usual dominant self (104 ERA+, K-rate and B-rate worst since his rookie year). Although you’d love to see the Cubs take a chance on that upside, every team is thinking that way.

So, in the end, while I like the idea of this discussion, I’m not sure I see a particular fit with the Marlins on the pitching side.

(By the way, who couldn’t see the Marlins’ plan to dump Buehrle at the first chance after signing him to an insanely backloaded contract last year? The same will be happening with Jose Reyes, by the way.)

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

49 responses to “Marlins’ Plight the Cubs’ Answer? How About Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson?”

  1. Northside Matt

    Will it may not be highly likely, I don’t think trading for Johnson now and flipping him at the deadline should be ruled out. Sure, they’ll have to give up good prospects now. But they could easily get better prospects at the deadline. We all know the Cubs aren’t prospect-heavy at the upper levels of the farm system.

    It’s obviously harder to flip Buehrle so maybe Buehrle sticks around to add depth. Or quality. However you wanna look at it.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      It’s obviously harder to flip Buehrle so maybe Buehrle sticks around to add depth.

      I’d take Buerhle, and then absorb some of his salary to flip him. (That’s assuming that he didn’t retire rather than become a Cub: he’s really not fond of the Cubs!) Meanwhile, I’d build on Johnson, although I would be a little concerned given his health issues. Still, he’s a groundball demigod.

      Gimme!

    2. When the Music's Over

      With Johnson’s injury history, that tactic carries considerable risk.

  2. Scott Hanson

    Both would be better then the crap in the rotation now. Can they trad Volstad back to the Marlins with some prospects? He isn’t a long term answer anyway.

  3. MightyBear

    I’d trade for Johnson if they can sign him to a long term deal (ie 3 years with a club option for 4). He’ only 29. Beuhrle although still a good pitcher is too old and doesn’t fit in the Cubs long term plans.

    1. cubs1967

      why would they want Johnson when they are so hell bent on trading garza. if you are 28 or older-see marshall-would of-will see garza; the cubs don’t want you. it will be 2016 before theo thinks about competing. at this point, shoot for the 1 yr guys like santana, maybe 2 yrs on villenueva, or someone like mccarthy. johnson is prior-wood all over again with his injury history. let the yankees or red sox or dodgers chase him.

  4. Njriv

    Cubs claim right-hander Carlos Gutierrez off waivers from Twins. Catcher Anthony Recker designated for assignment.

    1. nkniacc13

      I wonder if they will try and make him a starter or leave him in the bullpen. Maybe a replacement for Cabrera since they are going to try and make him a starter?

  5. gblan014

    I would totally be interested in this deal if I was the Cubs. It would give us a credible rotation going into next year. I know Johnson’s injury prone and Buehrle’s older now, but at some point if you want talent, you can’t be too picky. Yeah in a perfect world, you want Felix Hernandez, Chase Headley and every free agent that’s great and under the age of 27 but that’s not going to happen. It seems like these 2 have enough flaws that they could be had for less but yet still good enough to contribute to the team.

  6. Hebner The Gravedigger

    Maybe the Cubs can take on their salaries and kick in enough cash to make it interesting…? The Marlins appear to need liquidity. It would be a nice flex of financial muscle for the Cubs to send cash in lieu of legitimate prospects.

  7. SirCub

    I mean, it all sounds cool in principle, but… it’s Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. Pass.

  8. justinjabs

    I asked in an open letter to Santa Claus last December for Buerhle. I still think it’d be a good addition. Make it happen, Theo!

  9. Tommy

    I wouldn’t give up any decent prospects for those contracts.

  10. terencemann

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson is a Brave on opening day. I think he’d be a good player if the price is right for the Cubs. I think they are significantly hurt in a trade for any pitcher like Johnson by the lack of major league ready pitchers.

    1. Doug Dascenzo

      I get the feeling Johnson will go to an American League team. They’re more pitcher-hungry over there. I’ll just take a stab and say the Blue Jays.

  11. Stevie B

    No, and….no.

    We are now in a depression.

  12. Featherstone

    I would take buehrle for a fringe prospect at best. The cubs would love an innings eater like him in the rotation and they have some cash to burn, his backloaded contract aside.

  13. JR

    Buehrle’s contract is pretty bad. So I am sure we could have him for free. Although I am not completely sure why we would want to. But if I remember correctly weren’t they asking for an absolute ton for Johnson? Maybe take Buehrle on so we can get Johnson cheap? I really just don’t see much of a fit.

    1. Cyranojoe

      He’s a great workhorse who gives his team a chance to win. Not saying he leads us to the promised land or anything, but he’d be an improvement on most of our options. Except for the contract. :P

  14. Believe in 2015

    I think the Cubs should pursue Johnson if the marlins have interest in Lake, Vitters, or Jackson. Cubs could even throw in a more experienced player like Barney or Soriano (gasp!)

  15. nkniacc13

    All depends on the asking price

  16. Josh

    I don’t know if this is reasonable but how about Josh Johnson for someone like Brett Jackson and salary relief? I don’t think the Cubs will give up on Jackson yet, but not way should they consider trading anybody like Soler, Baez, or Almora

    1. Tommy

      I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they can probably get better for Josh Johnson. BUT I’ve been wrong before!

  17. 5412

    Hi,

    In recent interviews Epstein talks about now having six or seven core players as opposed to one at the beginning of the season. f they could unload some guys like Vitters or Jackson and get Johnson for a one year deal, why not? If they flip him at the trading deadline it may be for one real prospect.

    Seriously doubt they would let any of his core prospects go unless it is for a blockbuster player they could tie up for a few years.

    regards,
    5412

  18. 5412

    Hi again,

    We may see many of the Hendry draft picks moving on……other than Baez. I would love to be a fly on the wall and see how tied Randy Bush is to some of those lads.

    regards,
    5412

    1. JR

      5412, what up? I completely agree that some of the other lesser Hendry prospects may be moving soon. Hopefully piecing the likes of Vitters/Lake/BJax together can help bring some impact arms, but I think it could be a tough sell. They all have major flaws.

  19. Jeff

    We need guys that can throw 200 innings, they don’t have to be awesome, look at Verlander, he’s getting hammered tonight, 5-0

  20. Fastball

    I think our competition would likely be the Yankee’s. I hate them and it would warm my heart to see us keep them from improving. I hope the power shift in the AL East continues to the Orioles and Rays and maybe the Blue Jays.

    From the Cubbies side of it I think if we were able to sign both of those guys and Vizcaino shows up at Spring Training ready to go we could be flush with pitching. Wood could almost and or probably bounced out of the rotation with Johnson, Beurhle, Garza, Shark and Vicaino and Wood maybe do a 6 man rotation like the Reds did for most of last season. Those two pitchers would be what $24M next year. We could pick up a better than average outfielder and a 3B for another $10M and piece together a bullpen for another $10M max. We could give the NL Central a run for its money and possibly shock the world. We could even flip one of those 6 pitchers at the deadline and be in good shape with at least one or two more prospects i.e. quality ones. I think back to June/July when we played very well because we had good starting pitching and just a little offense. If we scored 4 runs a game we would be almost Oriole-esque. I look at it this way. We don’t have to win the World Series next year but if we made significant progress we would have a winning culture to go along with the Cubs Way and that would breed the kind of success we want for the long haul. Simply reloading the farm system with top prospects isn’t going to be enough to change the culture into a winning culture. We need some guys who are used to winning and know what winning is. If our young prospects come up to the Majors and it’s a winning program there will be success. I look at the Braves and the Cardinals they win an awful lot. I hate the Cardinals but they do win and have a tradition of winning because they keep that culture going. The Braves do the same thing year after year. They don’t go to the WS every year but they always have a shot and that’s exactly what we need. Players in the Minors need to know that when they are called up they better be ready to contribute to a winner.

    Sorry for the diatribe but I believe in that philosophy.

    1. Jeff

      I like it fastball, you throw it right down the middle of the plate! Now lets see what Thed does this off-season. Lack of major moves means that Ricketts has “other” plans.

    2. Drew7

      I don’t think there’s any way Vizcaino is able to start games in ST, let alone jump right into the big-league rotation (that’s *if* he can even hold up as a starter at all). Wood would be more than capable of holding down the #5 spot if/when Vizcaino is ready though.

      I don’t mind the idea of getting Johnson, but I’m not sure he’s gonna be had for the right price.

  21. willis

    Johnson is talented as hell. Injury prone sure, but damn there is a ton of talent there. He would be an intriguing get, that wouldn’t probably take a ton to get. I’m sure there’s a package that could nab him. Pencil him in as the #3 and all of the sudden the rotation looks ok. I like the idea of taking a serious look at him.

  22. calicubsfan007

    I would say go after Johnson. Younger and less money to throw at him compared to Buerhle, besides, I HATE BUERHLE! But talk about hell freezing over if a former white sux “great” joins the Cubs. I still like Johnson more though. The whole past injury thing actually helps. As it will probably help in negotiations and kind of fits the Cubs MO right now. Some risk, but higher reward.

  23. Fastball

    Okay I don’t care if we get Buerhle but get Johnson. Trade Jaxon and Vitters we lose little in the way of franchise impacting talent. Sign Johnson to an extension. If we did hat kind of deal early this off season it would send a msg and maybe we could sign Annibel Sanchez or a comparable FA starter who won’t cost prospects. Sanchez has proven himself to be a frontline pitcher this post season. That’s what we need IMO. Pitching wins look at San Frank. That offense is hot as hello but that lineup does not strike fear

    1. calicubsfan007

      @Fastball: Wait, what? How can an offense be on fire, yet not strike fear? If I was batting .500 in the past few games, despite the fact that I have a season BA of .200, wouldn’t I strike some fear into the opposition? If they could, they would try to pitch around me or aggressively attack the weakest part of my swing. Either way, I would, at the very least, be on the oppositions’ mind whenever they would face me during the hot streak.

  24. Fastball

    Phones suck

  25. Bill

    I’d pass on Buehrle at the price he’s going to cost over the next couple years and given his age. I would love for Theo to get Johnson. Pick up all the money and then give them a prospect. Sign Johnson for a 3-4 year extension. A rotation of Johnson, Garza, Shark, Wood, and FA sign (Marcum, Sanchez, etc) would look sweet. Get a couple late inning relief pitchers and sign another big bat to play outfield. 3B looks unfixable this offseason unless Theo can work out a trade with some team.

    1. calicubsfan007

      @Bill: I think that Theo would have to either trade for a pitcher or trade for a 3b. I don’t think that we have enough young talent or desire to do both.

  26. Bill

    cali,

    How much do you think the Cubs would have to give up for Johnson if they picked up all the money? He only has 1 year left on his contract but he is a very good pitcher, so I’m not sure what it would take. When I was talking 3B I wasn’t thinking someone like Hedley as he’ll cost a boatload to get. Was thinking more in line with someone who might have a minor league prospect blocked by a good major league 3B.

    1. calicubsfan007

      Bill,
      Just a guestamate here. But I would imagine, with the likely competition that will ensue for Johnson from both Boston and New York, that we would likely have to give up some like Baez. I just think that the Marlins are going to sell Johnson hard and won’t give him up for a couple low A prospects. And are you suggesting a guy like Olt or Rendon? They are blocked (Olt by Beltre, but I bet they will get rid of Beltre sooner than Olt) (and Rendon by Zimmerman). Rendon sounds intriguing though. I wonder what Luke thinks about that idea.

      1. calicubsfan007

        Just to elaborate, I do think that the Marlins are swinging for the fences with Johnson, especially after this past trade deadline. Teams were able to get great returns for okay pitchers(i.e. Dempster).

      2. Bill

        cali,

        If Johnson would cost us someone like Baez, I’d pass. He only has 1 year left and with his injury history, it would be too big a gamble to sign him to an extension AND give up someone like Baez. I wouldn’t even think the Yanks or Bos would do this UNLESS they could work out an extension at the time of the trade.

        Olt will cost a major prospect, so he’s too expensive. I don’t like trading major prospects for a major prospect (especially when we have so few impact players in the farm system).

        Honestly, I didn’t have a specific player in mind for 3B, but was thinking someone who we wouldn’t have to trade a Baez, Almora type prospect to get them. I’d rather just put up with Valbuena for another year if it’s going to save us from losing Baez or Almora.

  27. Doug Dascenzo

    The Marlins look like a sub-prime loan gone bad.

  28. ncsujuri

    It would be interesting to hear Hawk have to bad-mouth Buerhle if he were to pitch against the Sux for the Cubs!!! Not sure that would be worth teh two 17+ Million Dollar years on that contract though.

  29. nkniacc13

    Be interesting to see with johnson, Lincecum, buerhle among others on the trade market you have to think the cubs make a trade somewhere before ST for a starter but where and with whom.

    1. DarthHater

      Johnson seems like a possibility, albeit a small one. Don’t think there’s any chance that the FO would go for Lincecum or Buehrle

  30. nkniacc13

    Be interesting to see what the Braves do as well with their surplus of starters