Friday, December 18, 2009

The Nick Johnson Trade Tree

With the Yankees on the verge of re-signing former top prospect Nick Johnson, I've been thinking about the trade that initially sent Johnson from The Bronx. It's the start of a very interesting trade tree.

On December 16, 2003, the Yankees sent Johnson, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate to Montreal for Javier Vazquez.

Just over a year later, the Yankees flipped Vazquez, along with Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro, to Arizona for Randy Johnson.

Two days short of two years later, the Yankees sent Johnson back to the desert for Luis Vizcaino, Steven Jackson, Alberto Gonzalez, and Ross Ohlendorf.

Vizcaino departed the Yankees as a free agent after the 2007 season. Jackson was DFA'd in 2009 and picked up by Pittsburgh for the waiver fee.

Alberto Gonzalez was sent to Washington at the 2008 deadline for Jhonny Nunez. Nunez was part of the package sent to the White Sox for Nick Swisher last November. Exploring the lineage of that trade is really interesting and lengthy and may be a post for another time. For now, let's just say it includes such luminaries as Kevin Brown, Jeff Weaver, Hideki Irabu, and Xavier Hernandez before finally concluding at Steve Sax.

Ross Ohlendorf was part of a package with Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, and Jose Tabata that was sent to Pittsburgh for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.

So over the past six years, the Yankees surrendered Nick Johnson, Randy Choate, Juan Rivera, Brad Halsey, Dioner Navarro, Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, and Jose Tabata. All they have left to show for it is Damaso Marte, the waiver money from losing Steven Jackson, and a portion of the Nick Swisher trade.

They further received three years of mediocre pitching between Vazquez and Johnson, one year of relief from Luis Vizcaino during which he was abused into ineffectiveness by Joe Torre, and 276 plate appearances from Xavier Nady.

At least Nick's back now.

Johnny Damon Would Give Himself A 4 Year Deal

One of the more absurd tidbits of the offseason emerged yesterday when Larry Stone of the Seattle Times dropped the following chestnut into an article about the Mariners' interest in signing Johnny Damon (h/t BBTF):
One other rather bizarre Mariner-related Damon anecdote. I heard from someone who works around the Mariners that after Bill Bavasi was fired in 2008, and the Mariners were searching for a new general manager, Damon actually was telling people he would be interested in the job. This person insisted that Damon seemed dead serious, even though he was still an active player. It didn't go anywhere, of course, but I always thought it was an interesting notion. I meant to ask Damon about it last year when the Yankees came to town, but never got a chance.
Johnny Damon seems like a pretty decent guy and when his career is done, he'll probably be a borderline Hall of Famer. He's played for four different organizations (including ones run by Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and Brain Cashman) and been on two World Series winners. The man certainly has an eye for talent. All that said, campaigning for a front office position is one of those times that being a self-proclaimed "idiot" (and "writing" a book about it) might work against you a bit.

Clearly no team with any brains is going to hand over the keys to their franchise to Johnny Damon; I'm certain that any number of assistant GMs or scouting directors or other front office personnel would make a better general manager. If this is true, it makes his request for a four year deal seem downright realistic by comparison.

The Return Of Nick The Stick

Good morning, Fackers. It appears as though the Yankees are close to signing Nick Johnson to a one year, $5.5M deal. Johnson can play exactly one position, first base, and since Mark Teixeira is as much of an everyday player as there is on the team, it looks like Johnson - health permitting - will be a more or less full time designated hitter. Apparently the Yanks weren't so intent on rotating the DH slot to their aging players after all.

With a career OBP of .402 (.426 over the last three years), Johnson is a powerful offensive asset who sees lots of pitches, has excellent strike zone discipline and hits left handed pitching well (.440 OBP against LHP last year) despite being left handed himself. Sticking a guy like that in the 2 hole - in front of Teixeira and A-Rod - is going to lead to a significant increase in RBI opportunities for those two. Nick the Stick's power has declined over the past three seasons (SLG .520, .431, .402), but it would be reasonable to assume that Yankee Stadium would help in that capacity.

The most obvious knock on Johnson is that he's injury prone, suffering ailments ranging from stress fractures in his hand to a fractured cheek bone to a broken femur to back problems to torn ligaments in his wrist. As a result, he has appeared in an average of only 93 games over the past 8 years (including the 2007 season, which he missed entirely). Conventional wisdom says that stashing him away at DH would help prevent injuries, but that's far from a guarantee.

It would have been nice to bring Johnny Damon back but that seems very unlikely if the deal for Johnson goes through. He was asking the Yankees for twice as much money as Johnson over a contract three times as long. Sure, the fact that Damon is able to play the outfield would have increased the flexibility of the roster, but if other players really need a day off, there isn't a good reason that Joe Girardi can't just give Johnson a rest.

As far as Hideki Matsui goes, I think Johnson is a better fit for the Yankees offense. Granted, they both provide next to nothing defensively, but at the plate, they are very similar. Johnson has a career wOBA of .371 and was at .373 last year. Those numbers for Matsui are .367 and .378, respectively. However, Matsui's numbers are predicated on power (which is volatile) while Johnson relies on the more stable on OBP.

I'd rather have someone with a gaudy OBP who A-Rod and Teix will continually have the opportunity to drive in than another, lesser power hitter behind them. Both Matsui and Johnson are injury prone, but the former suffers from chronic knee injuries that are only getting worse while Johnson seems to have been afflicted with more random and flukey ailments.

For what it's worth, Johnson was $1M cheaper than Matsui and it might have been more. As Brian Cashman noted in reference to Bobby Abreu, a player is less likely to take a pay cut from their former employer than from another team.

I don't want to hear about the money that Matsui makes for the organization over in Japan, because that's the team's problem, not the fans'. Who cares how popular the Yankees on the opposite side of the world? We don't benefit from the money they make over there. The fact that Matsui has performed well in the postseason is great, but there's no guarantee that he'll repeat that performance next time around.

Overall, I like this move for the Yankees. It carries limited risk and if Johnson can grind out his usual production for 500 or so plate appearances, he will be a tremendous asset to the line up.