With the San Francisco Giants acquiring Ryan Garko from the Cleveland Indians tonight, one more team has likely pulled itself from the potential Nick Johnson sweepstakes. It's been a question all year at Federal Baseball as to whether the Nats should move NJ or not, with some of us (myself included) screaming that they should trade him (and probably should have at the now departed height of his value) and many more saying that they should not trade him. Of course, there are a handful of other guys (Yes. I'm casting an evil glare towards you, Cristian Guzman!) who it might behoove the Nats to deal. For now, though, let's focus on the name that's been out there all season...
The fact of the matter is that, in the last week, we've seen the A's transform a buyer's market into a seller's market for a day, acquiring a top-notch (albeit, kind of a fat one) as well as a couple of other solid prospects for the presumed two-month rental of Matt Holliday. The Blue Jays are trying to do likewise with Roy Halladay. Still, as we learned this past offseason watching three guys sign for big money and everyone else taking what would have (previously) been considered below market deals, the economy has had an effect on front offices around baseball. They're tighter with the purse strings, and thus tighter with the prospects. The elite players (Halladay, Holliday [I'm iffy there, but he's very good], Teixeira, Sabathia) may still fetch those big returns. The good players (such as Johnson and players like Garko and Adam Laroche) aren't going to.
The latest problem regarding the question of whether or not the Nats should trade Nick Johnson has to do with a lack of potential trading partners. That's not to say that there aren't any teams left that might still want him (more on that in a bit), but simply that there are fewer remaining. Most notably, the Giants and the Red Sox (the two teams who have acquired a first baseman in the past week) were the two teams most frequently linked to Johnson all season long. Fewer teams trying to acquire Johnson means that Mike Rizzo no longer has fewer options. If Team A isn't offering quite what he'd like, but he wants to try and play them off of Team B to make sure he maximizes his return.... well.... let's just say it's nice if there's still a Team B out there!
Who's Still Looking For a 1b?
1) Atlanta Braves - Yes... I'm going to mention two teams within the division that could possibly use NJ, and the Braves are the needier of the two. The NL East is clearly the Phillies to lose at this point, but the Braves find themselves just three out in the wildcard race right now. Casey Kotchman is far from a black hole in the lineup at first base, but he's basically a poor man's Nick Johnson. He doesn't hit as well for average, and he doesn't bring quite the OBP that NJ does. He doesn't hit for power either.
2) Houston Astros - Yes... Lance Berkman is their first baseman. No... With Michael Bourn finally showing he's capable of hitting (and flanked by Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee), there's nowhere for Berkman to play in the outfield. Berkman's on the disabled list, and to be perfectly honest, the Astros have to make a decision and make it fast. They were the best team in baseball from August 1 on last season and a strong July performance has them within two games of the NL Central lead. Nick would just be a short-term solution until Berkman is healthy and then a left-handed bat off the bench when Berkman is back, but considering that they've been limited to four runs or less in five of their past seven, they clearly miss Berkman. They can't afford to let the production continue at this rate for another 2-3 weeks if they want to stay in the race.
3) Detroit Tigers - I'm not sure how much they'd be in the market for him at this point, to be honest. Miguel Cabrera doesn't have quite the glove that Nick can bring at first base, but I'm not sure it would be necessary for the Tigers to move him to the DH spot. Carlos Guillen is back, and he's looking healthier than he's looked all season. The more I think about it, the less of a fit they would be. If they're interested just to get some depth, take advantage of the situation, but I doubt they'd give much up for him.
4) Texas Rangers - They've been linked more to Willingham, but Johnson could fill a 1b/DH need there as well. Hank Blalock has played fairly well defensively at first since they gave up (at least temporarily) on the Chris Davis experiment, but Johnson would certainly be a bit of an upgrade with the glove. If they were to try and put together a package (which would likely be below market) for Willingham, Rizzo could counter with a similar proposal for Johnson and maybe find a taker.
5) Florida Marlins - Honestly, I don't see it as much of a fit. Still, I wanted to make sure that I at least got five teams on this list (in case you haven't noticed, there are only two teams remaining that I feel should have any serious interest at this point). The recent promotion of Gaby Sanchez pretty much nullifies the interest, but if they were to decide they wanted to make a serious run at the wildcard, they could probably use a veteran bat. NJ would fit in a Jeff Conine type of role. Cantu slides back over to third and Bonifacio sits on the bench, where he probably belongs. I don't see it, but with the Mariners recent slide, I don't think they're going to be buying, but rather selling. That's a bit of a shame, because the Mariners seem to have given up on one terrific prospect (Jeff Clement) and have soured considerably on an elite prospect in Brandon Morrow. I would think that one of them could have been a centerpiece.
Am I going to the DNTNJ camp? Not really. See what you can get for him. The team that I could see needing him most at this point is the Astros, and I think Rizzo might have to go to them instead of them coming to him. More than anything, though, I'm in the WMTWTTNJ (or the We Missed The Window To Trade Nick Johnson) camp, and it's frustrating as hell.
I'll stand by my statement that the Nats would have been better off getting a pretty good (Grade B- to B) prospect or two slightly above average (C to C+) prospects who are a little further along in their development than the other route, but it's starting to look like most of you will be happy and that it's going to be the other route. For those keeping score at home, here's the other route:
- Johnson remains healthy, retains Type B Free Agent Status that he's currently projected to be
- Nats offer Johnson arbitration. He rejects it.
- Some other team signs Johnson in the offseason.
- Nats get a sandwich pick (likely somewhere between the 35th and 40th pick) in the 2010 draft
While there's little doubt in my mind that the Nats could end up with a prospect who has a higher ceiling than they're going to find by trading Nick Johnson, the risk involved by going the sandwich pick route is infinitely larger.
A) They're drafting a player (who hopefully projects very well) who has no professional experience. First off, we don't know who will be there or what we'll be looking at.
B) Chances of said draftee flopping are quite a bit larger, as we haven't seen how they'll perform at the professional level. The difference between High School/College and even Rookie ball is incredibly significant. By dealing Johnson for a player(s) with a little experience who project as even future big leaguers with a little experience, you're taking quite a bit less risk.
Of course, there's always the third potential scenario (and the one that I'm sure that most of you in the DNTNJ camp would prefer the most):
- The Nats sign Nick Johnson to a long-term extension.
To which I pose this question. The likelihood that Nick Johnson is not retained by whatever team he's traded to is pretty high. Why not just talk to him, let him know it's just business, trade him away, and try and sign him back in the offseason? It wouldn't be unprecedented.
Again, I'll close by saying that I think that they should still pursue moving Nick Johnson. At this point, though, it looks like Rizzo's first trade deadline is becoming reminiscent of the missed opportunity (which luckily worked out a bit [see: Zimmermann, Jordan.... drafted with the second round pick obtained from the Cubs when they signed Alfonso Soriano]) of trading Alfonso Soriano by Jim Bowden. At this point, we're going to have to hope that lightning strikes twice.