Nick Johnson: Free Agent at the End of the Season
Let me start out by saying that I am a huge, HUGE Nick Johnson fan.
I think this guy is a winning player, who plays the game the way it's supposed to be played.
However, it remains to be seen what Johnson can command on the open market once he becomes a free agent.
Johnson has put up good numbers this season by hitting .297 with six HR, 50 RBI, and an impressive .417 OBP.
It remains to be seen what exactly those numbers, coupled with Johnson's injury history, are worth on the market.
The Case For Johnson
Johnson has historically been a very good defensive first baseman. Fangraphs notes that besides this season, Johnson's UZR has consistently been very good. Despite his down season this year at first base, Johnson is known as a solid first baseman with very good range.
The biggest benefit Johnson brings to the table is his ability to get on base. Johnson is currently fifth in the NL in OBP, with an impressive .417 clip.
In each of the past four seasons, Johnson's OBP has been above .400. Even though Johnson does not hit for much power, you can always count on Johnson to be a patient hitter, work the pitcher, take his walks, and produce a high OBP.
3. He Hits Lefties
Unlike so many left-handed hitters these days, Johnson is actually a good hitter against left-handed pitchers. In 2009, Johnson's batting average is a robust .349 against left-handed pitching, and his career batting average against lefties is an impressive .297.
There is no need for a platoon with Nick Johnson around.
The Case Against Johnson
Even though Johnson is known as a good defensive player, his defensive stats this season are quite unimpressive. Johnson's UZR this season is -7.3, which is by far the lowest of his career. Is this just a bad year defensively for Johnson or is his defensive ability on the decline?
Back in 2006, Johnson hit 23 home runs for the Washington Nationals, and seemed well on his way to fulfilling his power potential. However, in large part because of injuries, Johnson has not hit double digits home runs since.
Johnson will still hit the occasional home run, and hit some doubles, but he cannot be expected to hit for power, despite his high OBP.
Throughout his big league career, Johnson has been a mainstay on the DL because of a combination of nagging and freak injuries.
In 2004, Johnson broke his cheekbone. In 2006, Johnson horrifically broke his leg colliding with Austin Kearns at Shea Stadium. In 2008, Johnson tore ligaments in his wrist and missed most of this season.
In short, Johnson is very, very fragile...which makes him very difficult to count on for an entire season.
There aren't too many first baseman out there who bring to the table what Johnson does.
His high OBP and supposedly solid defense should make him one of the most desirable first basemen on the market this year, but injuries will always be a concern.
For my money, I would rather have Johnson over any other first baseman on the market this year.
Then again, I'm a huge Nick Johnson fan, so take that for what it's worth.
Three years/$18 million
Here are some comparable contracts:
Lyle Overbay: Four years/$24 million
Carlos Pena: Three years/$24 million
Aubrey Huff: Three years/$20 million
I doubt whatever team signs Johnson will have to break the bank to get him. The combination of injuries and lack of power overshadow all the good things that Johnson can do on the baseball diamond.
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