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The River Styx

On Saturday, Nick Johnson signed a three-year contract extension with the Washington Nationals. The signing is a bold legitimacy move for the franchise, perhaps "inherently a risk" given Johnson's injury history, but potentially quite a steal. When combined with the $3.2 million that Johnson will make this season, his final year of arbitration, the Nationals are on the hook for just under $5 million a season for the next four years.

The signing engenders certain questions, which I'd rank in order of importance as:

1. Will Johnson stay healthy enough to justify the commitment?

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2. What of Larry Broadway?

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The six sets of elipses are not in any way an attempt to denigrate Broadway, who seems a fine, hard-working young man and a player of some degree of intriguing potential (for what it's worth, he's rated as the No. 8 prospect in the system by Baseball America, and John Sickels rates him at No. 4, albeit as a "B-/C+" type of talent).

Even given the sorry (though improving) state of the Nats' farm system, I would contend that those are not altogether discouraging evaluations, especially in light of Broadway's injury season in 2005. But an profile of Broadway today hit on an important distinction:

Broadway, 25, received word of Johnson's signing on Saturday night and acknowledged that he was disappointed, but Broadway still feels he has a future in the Major Leagues.

What's the distinction? Alright, it's more of an implied distinction, and since I'm here I might as well do the implying. To that end, there is a difference between:

  • being a team's future at a position, and
  • having a future in the big leagues.
If Broadway stays healthy, does his time, improves some, and makes a career for himself, he projects to be a nice complementary piece for a team. Maybe, like Brian Daubach before him, he provides a year or three of cheap, effective, regular play. (That would be the advantage to getting a late start in the major leagues, which will almost certainly happen with Broadway: after being summoned, the player can provide cheap production for his prime years.) I hope Broadway does all that and more.

But that's a different question than committing an organization's future at a position to the player---miles different. And, as far as being the Nats' future at first base, Broadway did not seem to fit the mold, no matter how many times it was stated (or phrased with anticipation) that he was the future. Specifically:

  • he's old for a serious prospect, while
  • coming off an injury season, keeping in mind
  • he hasn't done anything beyond Double-A, and
  • his last bang-up season was as at age 22 in the Sally League.
To put it another way, banking on Nick Johnson staying healthy is a better bet than banking on Larry Broadway to develop into the franchise's answer at first base.

Which isn't, as I said, in any way to denigrate Broadway. After all, he can competently satisfy the two building blocks of successful offense:

  • get on base, and
  • hit for power.
And that ain't bad. It just ain't everything.