Nick Johnson - Thanks, But No Thanks

ed feverCorrespondent IJune 2, 2009

With Carlos Delgado recovering from hip surgery, the idea of the Mets dealing for Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson has been exhausted by the New York fans and media for at least a few weeks now, and with good reason. Johnson carries with him a career on-base percentage of .399 and an OPS of .855, to say nothing of his top-notch defense. He’s had a very productive year with the Nats, batting .332 with an on-base percentage of .435, but while those numbers make Johnson an attractive option, his inability to play any position other than first base would pose a problem for the Mets down the road.

By most accounts, the organization has limited resources to make a big trade right now. Outside Fernando Martinez and Jon Niese, there aren’t many Met prospects that other teams covet. Bobby Parnell’s value is at an all-time high, but with good middle relief becoming increasingly hard to find, it’s unlikely the Mets would deal Parnell – especially with J.J. Putz’s grasp on the eighth inning getting weaker by the day.

So it’s not a stretch to say that, unless the Mets want to completely empty out the cupboard, they really only have the resources to make one big addition. With that said, what if Ollie Perez is unable to straighten himself out in the minors? The Mets recently shut down Perez’s rehab due to tendonitis in his right knee. And what if the resurgent, but aging and ailing Gary Sheffield comes back down to earth? The point is, it’s a distinct possibility the Mets will need a starting pitcher and a bat in the outfield to compete with the Phillies, who are themselves in the market for a starting pitcher after Brett Myers’ season-ending hip injury.

I can’t see the Mets dealing away what young talent they have for a player who would be a platoon first baseman at best, and a pinch-hitter/defensive replacement at worst, if/when Carlos Delgado returns from the DL. Reportedly, Niese, Eddie Kunz, and Mike Antonini have drawn the Nats interest. But if the Mets only have the chips to make one key acquisition before the trade deadline, could they really justify it being Johnson, who may not even have a spot on the field in two months?

Really, to say “thanks, but no thanks,” when it comes to Johnson wouldn’t be an indictment of Johnson’s abilities, as much as it would be a case of the Mets holding on to their resources to get better value. And as tempting as it might be, it would be foolish to move those resources for a two-month band-aid instead of looking for a player who could help the Mets all the way through October, should they be so lucky.

Another issue is Johnson’s 2009 salary of $5.5 million, very reasonable even by the Nationals’ standards. While Nats GM Mike Rizzo has publicly acknowledged that Johnson is on the trading block, Johnson's affordability means it would be a mistake to assume they have to trade him this early in the season. And while Johnson’s relatively light salary makes him attractive to the Mets, it also makes him attractive to other clubs like the Red Sox, who would presumably like an insurance policy in case David Ortiz’s bat never comes back to life. Boston has more premium minor league talent to offer than the Mets, and reportedly has already begun flirting with the Nationals over Johnson. So it’s not like the Mets have a tremendous amount of leverage over Washington.

There’s also the matter of Daniel Murphy, who will be relegated to spot starts and pinch-hitting duty when Delgado returns. Johnson’s arrival would make Murphy a complete non-factor, assuming he isn’t sent to Washington in a potential deal.

And then there’s the injury factor. Johnson, who has a reputation of being fragile, logged only 109 at-bats from 2007-08. Imagine the uproar if the Mets replaced their injured first baseman with another injury-prone first baseman, only to see him go down too. With his job potentially in jeopardy should the Mets miss the playoffs, you can bet Omar Minaya doesn’t want that kind of egg on his face.

So when it comes to Nick Johnson, thanks but no thanks. Sometimes, the best trade is the one you don’t make.