Nick Johnson Won't Be THE Cure for San Francisco, but He Could Be Part of One

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Nick Johnson Won't Be THE Cure for San Francisco, but He Could Be Part of One

The San Francisco Giants, like most teams, won't find the answer to all their 2009 problems via the free agent waters. There are no magic bullets available this year—even the biggest catches aren't panaceas.

Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are wonderful Major League Baseball players, but neither is capable of singlehandedly turning around an anemic offense.

Bay was arguably surrounded by more hitting talent during his days in Pittsburgh than would accompany him in 2010 under the fog, and we all saw how ferocious those clubs were.

Meanwhile, any doubt about Holliday's ability to be a triumphant one-man show flew out the window during his brief stint with the Oakland Athletics (not to mention his repulsive representation, Scott Boras).

Consequently, Giant die-hards shouldn't get our hopes up about signing a savior.

Any colossal improvement for the franchise will have to come via trade or not at all. So, when kicking the tires on those without contracts for next year, "complementary" should be the word of the day.

That means no drastic shuffling of Freddy Sanchez to third base in order to accommodate a public relations move. No burying of potentially fruitful youngsters behind stopgaps. Most importantly, it means maximizing what los Gigantes already have.

Offensively speaking, any maximization effort begins and ends with Pablo Sandoval.

Most pundits have Little Money as a first baseman for the long haul. This seems to be a foregone conclusion.

I've got news for those remote observers who think the Kung Fu Panda is merely some fat dude who got boxed into the hot corner by lack of options by the Bay. While the latter part is absolutely true, Sandoval picked it clean while he was working third base in 2009.

Furthermore, his offseason workout schedule has been constant fodder for the San Francisco Chronicle's sports page. Maybe the Giants' brass sees Sandoval at first, but it certainly appears as if they're grooming him for a permanent spot at third.

Granted, the kid is only 23, so getting a handle on his weight makes perfect sense no matter where the organization sees him playing.

But I can tell you this much—if Pablo Sandoval didn't improve defensively AT ALL from his first year playing third base in professional baseball, he'd still be a dandy option. There are holes in his game to be sure, but he certainly wouldn't be the worst defender there in the Bigs.

Given the dearth of viable third basemen in all of baseball—not simply the free agents this year—I say Pablo's considerable value increases exponentially if you can keep his .330 batting average, .943 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 25 home runs, 90 runs batted in, and 79 runs scored at third.

It's gonna be easier to find a great hired gun to play first base, and the Panda will get better considering the kind of athlete he is, so why not let the best-case scenario develop?

In my opinion, that scenario includes Nick Johnson.

Last seen in a Florida Marlins' uniform, Johnson makes sense for a number of reasons.

He's 31, a native of Sacramento, "only" made $5.5 million last year, so he shouldn't be too pricey, and shouldn't be too rigid about a long deal with his injury rap sheet. Additionally, he's pretty slick with the leather, so he'd help on defense at the very least.

Then there's the matter of his bat.

The only year he ever took 500 at-bats (2006), he scalded a similar line to Sandoval's 2009 carnage: a .290 average, .948 OPS, 23 HR, 77 RBI, and 100 R for a putrid Washington Nationals team playing in a rugged environment for hitters.

The last part should sound familiar to Giant fans.

Obviously, he comes with a huge "if" attached, i.e. he has to actually stay healthy, and Johnson's given no indication of an ability to do that. That 2006 year is the most action he's ever seen, and it was precisely 500 AB—not a full year—and the dude's been plying his MLB trade since 2001.

Nevertheless, the injuries haven't been the nagging, "I feel like taking a break" types that are potential poison pills.

Outside of a back injury in the early stages of his career that doesn't seem to have reappeared, Johnson's been the poster child for bad luck. A bad hop broke his cheekbone in 2004, a collision with Austin Kearns in 2006 broke his femur and cost him all of 2007, and he tore a ligament in his wrist in 2008. It also bears remark that, each time, Johnson has rebounded to find his stroke.

More good news—the dude is known for his patience and seeing a lot of pitches.

Both reputations matched reality in '09, as he led the Show by walking 17.8 percent of the time and finished third by seeing 4.38 pitches per plate appearance.

As a bonus, he tunes it up a notch for the big money at-bats. In the National League, only Casey McGehee (.512), Hanley Ramirez (.453), and Randy Winn (.370) had higher averages with runners in scoring position and two outs last year (minimum of 40 at-bats).

Plate discipline and clutch hitting are generally two things all woeful offenses desperately need, and the Gents are no exception.

Which is why a local boy available on the comparative cheap, who excels in both and is due some good health karma, makes better sense than any of the other options.

Nick Johnson won't turn the San Francisco Giants into an offensive juggernaut overnight. Unless you count choosing Taylor Swift as your walk-up music, that's where the bad news ends.

For a lot of the other free agents, it's just the beginning...


**www.pva.org**

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