Johnson To Marlins: Is That All There Is?

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, August 01, 2009 | , , | 2 comments »

"We are not rebuilding. This is a team that, in my opinion, is not far away from being a very good, solid baseball team." -- Mike Rizzo, July 31, 2009.

The Washington Nationals lost to what's left of the Pittsburgh Pirates Friday night when former Nationals outfielder Lastings Milledge, making his Pirates debut, drove in the winning run in a 5-4 victory.

Starter John Lannan was hit fairly hard, giving up five earned runs on nine hits over seven innings. The Nats couldn't muster much offense except for Ryan Zimmerman's 20th home run of the season.

But these facts are largely immaterial.

Today, at the Major League trading deadline, the Nationals parted ways with the last remaining player to wear the tri-colours of the Montreal Expos, first baseman Nick Johnson, and left-handed reliever Joe Beimel.

In return, the Nats received a soft-tossing left-handed control artist who was working his way backwards out of the Florida Marlins top prospects, a Triple-A converted reliever who just had Tommy John surgery two months ago, and a kid in A-Ball with a 6.24 ERA.

Oh, and the Nats also picked up the rest of his salary, so it's not even a salary dump.

I was one of the "dopes" that was calling for the Nats to move Nick Johnson. His contract expires at the end of the season, he will not qualify to return compensation picks, and let's face it, has been mostly terrible defensively this season, especially on balls hit behind him where he has to back up or go toward the stands.

Apparently, the team and his agent had tried to work out an extension to his contract to keep him in D.C., but were unable to before the deadline, prompting the trade. Presumably, this means Johnson is open to returning to Washington next season as a free agent. He probably should remain open to the idea, because it's here where he probably has the only chance of making what he thinks he's worth.

Johnson is 30. Not an old man, but definitely on the downward slope for a professional baseball player. If the steroids era taught us anything, it reminded us that ballplayers aren't supposed to get better after they hit 3-0.

Also, Johnson has an extensive and painful injury history. I won't rehash it here to save space, but he's suffered from some of the more grisly injuries known to baseball players.

And there's this: he has no power. Granted, his on-base skills are excellent, and those are skills that can prolong player's career and make him more money in free agency. But let me be perfectly clear about one thing: there is no market for first basemen that hit less than ten home runs a season.

The accumulation of injury has reduced Johnson to an opposite-field, slap-hitting, on-base machine. And that would be wonderful if he played middle infield. But he doesn't. He plays the one position on the field where power is not only required -- it's paramount.

The fact that Johnson has but six home runs at the trade deadline despite his .405 OBP and playing just about every day was as much to blame for the return on the deal than anything else. Want to know why Rizzo couldn't get anything more for Johnson at the deadline? There was no market for him.

Did you see what the Red Sox gave up to acquire Adam LaRoche? A middling SS and pitching prospect. And he has 14 home runs.

The time to have traded Johnson was back in early June, when Mike Lowell first started having his annual back spasms and Big Papi was just slumping, not festering amidst steroid allegation. Not at the deadline, where a "take it or leave it" 11th hour deal leaves you handicapped.

Rizzo said, "We held out for the player we wanted." Really? A Double-A poor man's version of John Lannan?

That, and the opening quote, are the most interesting things to come out of Friday's deals.

2 comments

  1. Andrew // August 1, 2009 at 7:53 AM  

    The time to have traded Johnson was back in early June, when Mike Lowell first started having his annual back spasms and Big Papi was just slumping, not festering amidst steroid allegation. Not at the deadline, where a "take it or leave it" 11th hour deal leaves you handicapped.


    Rizzo said, "We held out for the player we wanted." Really? A Double-A poor man's version of John Lannan?


    Good points and they don't even save a dime on salary since they suck up Nick's contract.

    I think Rizzo felt the pressure to make a splash and again make some trades and catch lightening in a bottle. For a pitcher that has been 4 years in the Minors, does it seem feasible he can be an impact starter in the Nats system? We will see but I am not holding out a lot of hope on these deals.

    Then again nobody was knocking on Rizzo's door except to steal one of the Nats players. You have to believe every playoff contender in the AL wanted Adam Dunn but didn't want to give anything back in return and the same goes for Willingham.

    The Nats have 1/3 of the season to see if Adam Dunn can make 1st base work so this is a good preview for next year.

  2. Deacon Drake // August 1, 2009 at 12:01 PM  

    Yeah, I don't understand why the Nats picked up Nick's salary when they weren't going to get Tucker. Seems like the Marlins may have felt that they could win without Johnson, but the Nats (Rizzo) felt that they needed to have something to show for at the deadline.

    As for Johnson's lack of power, I'm not sure if it is so much his lack of power or his batting position dictating his approach at the plate. He is an effective number 2 hitter because of his ability to take pitches and move the runner, not because he is a home run threat. Given the opportunity to hit lower in the lineup, he'd probably be a 15-20 guy. Still not corner infield power, but certainly different than what he demonstrated this season.