Miami Marlins

Marlins reach deals with pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, infielder Chris Johnson

Wei-Yin Chen agreed to a deal with the Miami Marlins on January 12, 2016.
Wei-Yin Chen agreed to a deal with the Miami Marlins on January 12, 2016. AP

The Marlins have had a quiet offseason, but that changed in a big way Tuesday when the team agreed to contracts with left-handed pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who is a potential No. 2 starter, and infielder Chris Johnson, a career .280 hitter.

Neither deal has been announced, but both were confirmed by a source with direct knowledge. Chen still must pass a physical.

The Marlins landed Chen with a five-year, $80 million deal that could become a six-year, $96 million contract if Chen pitches 180 innings in the fifth year of the contract or 360 innings over the fourth and fifth years.

But there’s a catch: Chen, 30, can opt out after two seasons, according to a source.

The Marlins will pay him $6 million in 2016 and $14 million in 2017. Chen also is receiving an $8 million signing bonus, meaning he will make $28 million over the next two seasons before he has the right to opt out.

Chen was 11-8 with a 3.34 ERA for Baltimore last season, his earned-run average ranking seventh in the American League.

He is 46-32 with a 3.72 ERA in his four-year MLB career, all with the Orioles. His best season was 2014, when he went 16-6. He’s 1-1 with a 4.70 ERA in three postseason starts.

Chen doesn’t walk a lot of hitters; he walked 1.7 per nine innings in 2014 (ranking fifth in the American League) and 1.9 per nine in 2015 (ranking seventh).

But he is prone to allowing home runs. He relinquished 28 last season, sixth-most in the AL, after relinquishing 29 and 23 the previous two seasons.

Born in Taiwan, Chen pitched for the Chunichi Dragons from 2004 through 2011, going 36-30 with a 2.59 ERA, with his career briefly interrupted by Tommy John surgery in 2006.

He also pitched for Chinese Taipei in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

Chen figures to slot in as the Marlins’ No. 2 starter, behind ace Jose Fernandez. Jarred Cosart and Tom Koehler also are expected to be a part of the rotation.

The fifth spot could go to Edwin Jackson, David Phelps, Justin Nicolino, Adam Conley, Jose Urena or Kendrys Flores.

Chen’s fastball has averaged between 91 and 92 mph the past four seasons, according to fangraphs.com. He also throws a changeup, slider and curveball.

The Marlins negotiated the Chen deal with agent Scott Boras, who was upset with the Marlins for leaving outfielder Marcell Ozuna in the minors for 5 1/2 weeks last summer, thus delaying his arbitration eligibility by a year. But Boras and the Marlins appear to have repaired their relationship.

Boras also represents Fernandez and Cosart, giving him three of the Marlins’ top four starting pitchers.

Meanwhile, Johnson, 31, fills the need for a right-handed bat off the bench. Johnson has played for Houston, Arizona, Atlanta and Cleveland in a seven-year career and has 58 career homers and 315 RBI.

He batted .255 with three homers and 18 RBI for Atlanta and Cleveland last season and .263 with 10 homers and 58 RBI for the Braves in 2014. He finished second in the National League in batting average (.321) for Atlanta in 2013.

Johnson will back up left-handed hitting Justin Bour at first base and figures to get playing time against left-handers.

Johnson, a career .314 hitter against left-handers, appears to be an ideal complement for Bour. Johnson hit .326 against left-handers last season, and Bour hit just .221 against lefties, albeit in just 68 at-bats.

Bour, conversely, hit .271 against right-handers, and Johnson hit .212 against right-handers.

Bour figures to get the majority of the playing time at first; he’s coming off a season in which he hit .262 with 23 homers and 73 RBI in 129 games.

In his career, Johnson has played 627 games at third base, 49 at first base, 75 as a designated hitter and two as an outfielder.

Johnson, incidentally, was one of several Braves who expressed displeasure after Fernandez flung his bat, watched the ball clear the fences and took a slow trot around the bases after his first career home run, hit against Atlanta in September 2013.

Johnson, who was playing third base for Atlanta that day, exchanged words with Fernandez. As Fernandez approached third on his home-run trot, TV replays showed Johnson spitting toward the ground, and Fernandez then spit toward the base.

“The kid is a good pitcher,” Johnson said afterward. “He’s got some other stuff going on, too, that upsets people sometimes. There were some guys in the dugout who weren’t too happy with the smiling after getting people out and all of that kind of stuff. But it’s fine.”

Meanwhile, the Marlins also remain in negotiations with second baseman Dee Gordon on a long-term contract.

Gordon is arbitration-eligible, and the deadline for teams and players to exchange figures is Friday. The Marlins historically have stopped negotiations after the player and team exchange figures.

Barry Jackson: 305-376-3491, @flasportsbuzz

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