A common rumor that’s been floated among Giants fans all offseason is trying to acquire Nick Johnson from the Nationals. The 29-year-old first baseman is a career (.272/.395/.458) hitter over parts of 6 seasons. In 2006, while posting a career season — an OPS+ of 149 — Johnson collided with teammate Austin Kearns while attempting to catch a foul ball. The collision resulted in Johnson breaking his femur and missing all of 2007 due to the injury. Leg injuries are a serious thing and it’s still to be seen if Johnson can come back fully healed for 2008, but early reports out of Nationals Spring Training have been positive.
From the Washington Post:
He has been under no limitations in camp, and has tested the leg in nearly every imaginable way — with the exception of sliding. But Johnson said he wouldn’t hesitate to slide in a game.
“It’s not going to affect anything,” he said. “Knowing myself, when I get on the field, if the situation arises I’ll just get down and [slide]. It won’t matter how it feels [afterwards]. A little soreness isn’t going to stop me.”
The Nationals are waiting to evaluate Johnson’s performance this spring before making a decision on their first base situation, where Johnson and veteran Dmitri Young are both seeking the starting job.
Like the end of the blurb states, the Nationals currently have two first basemen that can’t really play anywhere else in Dmitri Young and Nick Johnson. Both are big guys that should never play any other position than first. Johnson is signed through the 2009 season at $5.5M per and Young is also signed through ’09 for $5M per season with an option for 2010.
The Nationals and the Giants could match well as potential trade partners. The Nationals desperately need pitching and the Giants could use a first baseman, despite the fact that the team seems to be locked into letting Ort sink or swim. A trade that involves Johnson is tricky. First, because of his health and the extent of his leg injury, he might never return to his previous performance. I’ll be very interested to see what Will Carroll from Baseball Prospectus has to say about Johnson in his team health report. Johnson has had a history of injuries — deep bone bruises, some reoccurring back problems, some other minor stuff — and his health is no sure bet. He’ll turn 30 in September and that could start to be the age where he slides downhill for good. But if he’s healthy, he’s a very nice player. Great OBP, solid power. But that’s a big if.
Secondly, and just as important, is who the Giants would send to the Nats in return for Johnson. A semi-healthy Johnson would be a much, much, much better option to hit 4th for the Giants than Bengie Molina but I’d really hate to see the Giants send anything of value to the Nationals for Johnson — such as Jonathan Sanchez, I might be one of his biggest supporters — and end up with an injured player on the downside of his career.
Just who would I trade for Johnson? Well, glad you asked.
- Noah Lowry. Lowry is the next Giants pitcher that I’m working on for the PITCHf/x series but I’ve been concerned about him for the past couple of years. I’ll go into greater detail in his actual article, but injury concerns and declining control have me worried. Don’t pay attention to his wins, because his underlying stats are pretty ugly. A 1:1 ratio of walks to strikeouts? Ewww. I think Lowry’s stock is down, as apparent by some news bits that I’ve read over the offseason, but when your starting rotation includes John Patterson — who was good at one point but has been injured since 2006 — Tim Redding, Tyler Clippard, Mike Bacsik, and John Lannan, Noah Lowry doesn’t look so bad. He would probably slot in as their #2 pitcher behind Patterson. If the Nationals would do a swap of Lowry-for-Johnson, I would make that deal so fast your head would spin. The 2008 PECOTA has Lowry’s ERA projected at 4.72.
- Kevin Correia. Alright, settle down. Yes, Correia had some nice spot starts last year but he’s not going to ever be anything more than a 5th starter. The Giants have several pitchers that I’d much rather see get time in the rotation before Kevin, including Jonathan Sanchez and Pat Misch. Cashing in any value that you can get with Correia is probably a smart move. If any team values him, I’d ship him out.
The scenarios where a Johnson trade would work for the Giants is very slim. I would not trade any prospect for Johnson but instead I’d try to swap out major league parts in Lowry or Correia for him. Of course, this post is mainly an exercise in stupidity because trade scenarios never work out. Sabean still might be itchy to upgrade first but I’d hope he would only do so on these terms. In reality, the Giants are better just sticking with Ortmeier and sucking than trading for anything else. That’s the feeling that I’ve got about ’08 and for the early future. I think most fans share that same feeling of doom and dread. It kinda sucks to know that no matter what your team does, it’s still going to be really terrible.
I started this post with hopes that I could make a Nick Johnson trade work and make sense for the Giants! But instead, I sorta got depressed. Thanks Giants!
Just as I submitted this post, I got an email from Will himself. He says that Johnson is definitely a “red risk” because he’s never really been all that healthy, in addition, his power would only be “mediocre” at the big phone and it would be best to platoon him. Can’t say I argue with either assessment. A platoon would obviously lessen the work load on Johnson as he attempts to come back from his injury.