Nick Johnson will arrive in the lineup tonight and it will signify big changes for the Marlins. How long those changes stay in effect is the debate.
Johnson will bat 2nd in the lineup, according to reports. His high on base percentage (.408) will give Hanley Ramirez plenty of chances to drive in more runs. This is a great thing – Hanley is batting .396 with runners in scoring position.
This also means changes to the defense, as well. Gone is the Emilio Bonifacio project, which was yielding as much of a return on the investment as the recent real estate market. Bonifacio has a lot to learn. He has a tangible skill in his speed, but his defense is lacking and his approach at the plate needs work. What is good about this move is that now Bonifacio can be the Alfredo Amezaga replacement off the bench – the speedy utility guy that can play outfield and infield positions in a pinch. The bench, as good as it already is being anchored by Ross Gload and Wes Helms, gets even better, too.
Johnson is s gold-glove caliber defender that will take over at 1B which increases the Marlins’ ability to get outs and protect their pitching. What is actually kind of funny is that for several days before the trade, Jorge Cantu was taking ground balls from 3B indicating something was up. Now, Cantu will slide back over to 3B, where he was last year as a Marlin. His defense is only a slight improvement at this point over Bonifacio, but his bat in the lineup makes it much more acceptable of an option.
So, the Marlins improve their offense and defense with this trade while at the same time bolstering their bench. That means this trade does exactly what the Marlins needed and it only cost them a minor league prospect. What does that mean for the future? Let’s speculate a bit.
The Marlins are looking at the final year of contracts for both Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla. Nick Johnson, also, is in the final year of his contract. Given the circumstances, and the direction of the team, the Marlins may be inclined to let Uggla walk (he’s arbitration eligible and the Marlins may opt to deal him) and move Bonifacio to 2B permanently. With Uggla’s salary freed up ($5.3M), the Marlins could re-sign Johnson and lock him in at 1B – if he is productive as a Marlin. That leaves Cantu’s situation up in the air, but he has definitely proven himself as a Marlin so given the right price, maybe another year is added on.
Johnson may be a bigger part of the future than we may know at this time. Joe Capozzi, of the Palm Beach Post, doesn’t seem to think so. Sure, the Marlins have stud prospect Logan Morrison on the horizon, but he is only in AA right now at Jacksonville. The Marlins also have Gaby Sanchez, who was recently optioned to AAA New Orleans – it will be interesting to see if he continues to get time at 3B as well. But don’t discount owner Jeffrey Loria’s ties to Nick Johnson – Johnson is the last player to play for the Expos left on the Nationals, the team Loria previously owned. Johnson was also a Yankee, which Loria had a vested interest in at one time as a part owner. “I’ve liked Nick Johnson for 10 years,” Loria said. “I was hoping to have him on a team I was involved with. He’s a classy guy and an unbelievable player.” The feeling, to me, is that this is a deal that if the stars align will result in a long term fix here. Johnson is only 30 and has several good years left. A three year deal would get him to the new stadium and set it up for Logan Morrison to take over.
The immediate future of the Marlins is bright. With this move, management has communicated to the players and the fans that they are about winning. The team has played itself into the playoff hunt and the front office went out and did their job – improved the team to get them a better chance of getting to the postseason. Given all the trades in MLB over the last few days, there was no way the Marlins could stand pat and expect to compete down the stretch. Sure, the bullpen has been tweaked and is actually a very strong part of the club right now (Matt Lindstrom was just brought off the DL, by the way) but the offense was stalling at key situations. With a hitter like Nick Johnson in the lineup, the Marlins 2-4 hitters become very tough. This team is definitely on the rise.