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Josh Johnson Earning His Contract

Justin Morneau has the highest WAR in baseball right now, but you probably knew that. Know who is second?

Josh Johnson. With another dominating start last night, the Marlins ace has now thrown 122 innings and is running a 2.33 FIP. Yes, that’s likely to rise over the course of the season (his HR/FB is just 3.8 percent), but for the first half of the season, he’s been basically unhittable.

However, this post is not to praise Johnson as much as it is to ask his agent “what were you thinking?” Six months ago, he signed a four year extension with the Marlins that will pay him $39 million through 2013. He would have been a free agent at the end of the 2012 season, so he gave up two years of free agency in order to sign the deal.

Two other pitchers with the same amount of service time signed long term contracts this winter as well. Felix Hernandez got $78 million over five years, and Justin Verlander got $80 million over five years, both getting about 60 percent more in annual salary than Johnson in addition to an extra year on the end of their deal.

Johnson didn’t have the same track record as either of those two, but he did have – and still has – similar talent levels. He’s out-pitching both of them right now, in fact. If Johnson had not signed a long term deal last winter, he’d be staring at one of the largest arbitration payouts in history this winter, and he’d have enough leverage to command a deal equal to those signed by Hernandez and Verlander a year ago.

Instead, he left a lot of money on the table. A lot. Here’s what he said at the time of the deal:

“I’m excited,” Johnson said. “It sets up me and my family for life. One of the best parts is knowing where I’m going to be the next four years. I won’t have to hear about any trade rumors or anything like that. I’m happy to be in South Florida.”

Johnson was clearly motivated to avoid going year to year, valuing long term security and peace of mind so highly that he signed a contract that makes him one of the most underpaid players in the game, relative to his ability. The next time you hear someone say that players are just all about the money nowadays, remind them of Johnson and his contract. Just like the rest of us, players value a variety of things, and they make decisions on where to work based on a variety of reasons.