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If you look at the stats, it’s often interesting how a player’s numbers tend to improve in the final year of his contract.

Of course, that player is giving maximum effort to earn a new contract. That’s not to say that the player does not give full effort during the first few years of a contract, but it’s certainly a trend we’ve seen, especially with the lucrative contracts in today’s game.

Josh Johnson is the next big name whose contract runs out at the end of this season. Though he’s now pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays, Johnson is in the final year of a four-year, $39 million deal he signed with the then Florida Marlins.

This season will be telling for Johnson to determine his next free-agent contract. He has a 56-37 career record, a 3.16 ERA and strong strikeout numbers. But his problem in his seven full seasons as a starter is that he’s been severely hampered by injuries.
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Photo by Wally Gobetz, used under creative commons license.

When healthy, Johnson has proven to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. The Blue Jays have high expectations this season, and Johnson will be a critical factor in attempting to back up all the hype.

But in Johnson’s seven seasons, he’s made 30 starts just twice. There were even two seasons in which he made less than 10 due to serious injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2007 and was shut down in 2011 with right shoulder inflammation.

There’s no doubt that the injury history is there. It’s almost strange that Johnson is already 29 years old because it seems like we’re still waiting for him to put together three or four healthy seasons in a row.

He had a healthy campaign last year and finished 8-14 for a team that won only 69 games. He now needs to build upon last year with a better year this year in order to be in line for a multi-year contract.

If he can stay healthy all year and rely on his offense to give him some run support, there’s no limit to how effective he can be on the mound. But unless he goes out and wins a Cy Young Award this season, teams will likely be skeptical in pursuing him next offseason.

It’s such a tough situation because he has the stuff to be a productive frontline pitcher, yet he’s had trouble proving he can stay healthy. The worst feeling for a team is to be excited about signing a top-notch starting pitcher only to see that pitcher miss significant time due to injury.

Johnson will be extremely lucky to get a deal similar to his first free-agent contract of four years. But given his talent, there are likely teams willing to offer more than just a one-year deal.

A two-year deal with incentives makes the most sense. He’s still relatively young, and he and his agent must realize that teams will not simply glance over his injuries.

But given the market for starting pitching, Johnson finds himself in a position where he has negotiating power. If he can stay healthy all season and put up good numbers, he’ll be in even a better position to cash in once again.