Nick Johnson last played a Major League Baseball game on September 23, 2006. The broken right femur he suffered that day in a collision with Austin Kearns, while both chased a short slicing drive off the bat of the Mets' David Wright into right, required multiple surgeries and cost the twenty-eight year old first baseman an entire year in the prime of his career, just as it seemed Johnson had gotten it all together.
In response to Johnson's injury and the question of how many games, if any Johnson would play in '07, the Nationals signed free agent first baseman Dmitri Young as insurance at first and in the middle of the order. DY hit .320 in '07, the highest average of his career and when everyone looked for the Nationals to trade DY at the Trade Deadline, Washington signed the then-thirty-three year old to a two-year, $10 Million Dollar extension to keep the 6'2'' 215(??)lb Meat Hook in DC.
Which immediately raised the question that was once again featured in the most recent edition of mlb.com's Bill Ladson's "Nat's Mailbag" at washington.nationals.mlb.com, entitled, "Mailbag: Will Mitchell Report hurt?", where a fan asks who will be starting at first in '08? Mr. Ladson responds:
"I have never heard Johnson so happy as he was last week
when I touched base with him. It sounds like he will be
ready for Spring Training. In terms of the first-base
situation, Young is the starter entering Spring Training,
and it's too early to tell how Nationals will get them both
in the lineup."
At the time of Nick Johnson's injury in '06, with the most at bats he'd ever been given in a season, an even 500, Johnson was batting .290 with 145 hits, 110 walks, 46 doubles, 23 HR's, 77 RBI's and a .428 OBP. In '05, Johnson put together a total of 35 doubles, 80 walks, 15 HR's and 74 RBI's with a .408 OBP.
Dmitri Young's .250 AVG in '06 was an abberation, chalked up to personal and medical problems which obviously distracted from his on-field production, but in '07 with the Nationals DY regained and improved on his form, posting the career-high .320 AVG., 38 hard-running doubles, 13 HR's and 74 RBI's on 147 hits in 460 AB's.
By the end of '07 Dmitri Young had worked himself back into shape and was chugging the bases with the arm tucked in tight as if he was twenty again, though the thought of his playing the outfield again, which was suggested as a possible remedy to the logjam a healthy returning Nick Johnson causes at first, drew mostly guffaws when it was mentioned.
Assuming the surgeries on Johnson's leg and hip have added a few pounds to the piano strapped to his back, neither Johnson or DY has much of an advantage over the other on the base paths, though Johnson is probably the better base-runner, (though I can offer only anecdotal evidence as proof of that assertion).
Defensively, Johnson's 15 errors in '06 were more than twice as many as he'd previously committed in a season, while Dmitri Young, who has described hearing "circus music" in his head when he chases pop fouls, committed just 9 errors in '07, but assisted on 32 less put-outs than Johnson had the year before(DY 61 A to NJ's 93 A).
I don't see either DY or Nick Johnson playing any other position in the field. The two of them are too good to play part-time at first. Will the Nationals trade Nick Johnson if he's healthy this Spring and attracts interest? Or, will a healthy Nick Johnson make Dmitri Young expendable?
It's been noted that the Nationals are grooming Chris Marrero at first now, so I wouldn't be surprised to see one of the two, DY or Nick Johnson moved? But I can't see them both on the roster when the '08 season begins, unless one is in a significantly diminished role, but then neither seems ready for that either...
*Johnson vs Young Links*
mlb.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Mailbag: Will Mitchell Report hurt?" at washington.nationals.mlb.com:
mlb.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Nationals ink Young to two-year deal" at washington.nationals.mlb.com:
mlb.com's Bill Ladson's articled, "Johnson breaks leg in collision at Shea" at washington.nationals.mlb.com:
Nick Johnson's career stats at baseball-reference.com:
Dmitri Young's career stats at baseball-reference.com: