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2/13/08 DY vs Nick Johnson Round 2...

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     When asked in his recent article, "Mailbag: What to do with Johnson?", who he would like to see at first base this season, Nick Johnson or Dmitri Young, MLB.com's Nationals' writer Bill Ladson responded that it was a hard choice since he knew both personally and liked both as, "players and people," but if he had to choose Mr. Ladson said:

          "...I would do everything possible to make Young
          happy because the team is asking him to be more than just
          a hitter. The Nationals are asking him to be a mentor to
          outfielder Elijah Dukes. At the same time, I would hate to
          see Johnson on the bench because he gets on base and is
          an excellent defensive first baseman."

     The Athlon Sports Baseball 2008 magazine's predictions for the Nationals' '08 lineup have Nick Johnson starting the season on the bench because, "He must overtake a 2007 All-Star to return to the starting lineup," and while explaining their choice of DY at first, they echo Mr. Ladson, writing "Don't expect another .320 average, but his leadership compensates for any dropoff."

     Washington Post baseball writer Barry Svrluga puts the question front and center, listing the competition at first base as his top story of the Nationals', "Five Story Lines for Spring Training", in his 2/10/08 "Nationals Preview" feature in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post. Starting at first in Mr. Svrluga's depth chart...Dmitri Young. Mr. Svrluga's reasoning:

          "...Young has recast himself as the NL comeback player of
          the year and signed a two-year, $10 million extension,
          and Johnson has yet to play. Now, Johnson, whose 2006  
          on-base percentage of .428 can transform the lineup, is
          out to prove he's healthy. Young, whose .320 average was
          the highest of his 12-year career, is out to prove '07
          wasn't a fluke. Neither can play another position. What
          gives?"

      Something is going to have to give. While praising both DY and Nick Johnson in another article by MLB.com's Bill Ladson entitled, "Q&A with Jim Bowden", Mr. Bowden argues that Dmitri Young's hitting, improved defense and DY's, "leadership skills in the clubhouse," make it clear, at least to the Nationals' GM, that heading into Spring Training, "...(DY) is obviously the first baseman." But...according to Mr. Bowden:

          "... I think we can all be optimistic there is a good
          possibility that he comes into Spring Training at 100
          percent, which will create good competition. It's healthy for
          a club."

     No doubt competition is good, but what happens when the competition is over? Nick Johnson had two seasons on his resume as the starting first baseman for the Nationals, during which he'd hit 81 doubles, 38 HR's and collected 151 RBI's while batting .289 and .290 with a .408 and then .428 OBP in the '05 and '06 seasons, respectively, before missing the entire '07 while rehabbing his broken leg.

      DY hit over .300 for the fifth time in his 12-year MLB career in 2007, with an RBI total higher than he'd posted since 2003, more doubles than he's legged out since he was 24, and the second All-Star appearance of his career to go along with MLB's Comeback Player of the Year Award, which he received in recognition of his on and off field accomplishments.

      I know when pitchers and catchers report...when does the competition for first start? Should the contributions expected from DY both offensively and in terms of mentor/leadership and clubhouse influence outweigh what NIck Johnson offers on the field, at the plate, and defensively at first?

     Does it make any sense to keep either player as a bench player at this stage in their careers? Two middle of the order, high-average hitting, run scoring and producing first baseman who are more than capable of playing their position defensively...Will one of the two be traded? The writers of the Athlon Sports 2008 Baseball annual don't seem to think so, writing:

          "...Depending on Johnson's health, the Nationals could
          have the rare luxury of calling a reigning all-star off the
          bench in Young. Otherwise, Johnson --one of
          Washington's best hitters--coul ease into action as a
          reserve."

     Would Nick Johnson consider "ease(ing) into action as a reserve?" MLB.com's Bill Ladson asked Nick Johnson that very question today at washington.nationals.mlb.com, in his article entitled, "Notes: Johnson ready to play", where Mr. Ladson writes:

          "Speaking hypothetically, Johnson, 29, indicated that if he
          were to lose the first-base job to Young, he would not
          accept being a bench player.

          "'I want to play every day,' Johnson said.

          "Asked if he would prefer to be traded if he lost the first-
          base job to Young, Johnson hesitated, laughed and said,
          'Yeah, I don't want to sit on the bench. I want to play every
          day. I love to play baseball. That's not my decision.'"

*DY vs Nick Johnson Round 2 LINKS*

Nick Johnson's career stats at baseball-reference.com:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/j/johnsni01.shtml

Dmitri Young's career stat at baseball-reference.com:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/y/youngdm01.shtml

MLB.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Mailbag: What to do with Johnson?", at washington.nationals.mlb.com:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080203&content_id=2363317&vkey=ne ws_was&fext=.jsp&c_id=was

Washington Post Writer Barry Svrluga's feature, "Nationals Preview: Five Story Lines for Spring Training", at washingtonpost.com:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/mlb/longterm/2008/preview/pdf/nationals_preview_08.pdf

MLB.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Q & A with Jim Bowden", at washington.nationals.mlb.com:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080105&content_id=2340005&vkey=ne ws_was&fext=.jsp&c_id=was

MLB.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Notes: Johnson ready to play", at washington.nationals.mlb.com:

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080213&content_id=2372357&vkey=sp t2008news&fext=.jsp&c_id=was