On a slow trade rumor day, I figured it would be fun to take a good look at Nick Johnson. Johnson will be a free agent after the 2006 season, and his name was previously bandied about in a trade rumor involving the Red Sox. However, Nationals GM Jim Bowden has expressed a desire to re-sign his oft-injured first baseman.
Johnson is entering his age 28 season. Last year he set a professional career high in at-bats, with 453. He hit .289/.408/.479 with an extreme pitchers’ park as his home stadium. His OBP was ninth in baseball. Given his playing time and relatively mediocre slugging percentage, you might think Johnson isn’t a top ten 1B. Baseball Prospectus says think again – including defense, they ranked him as baseball’s 6th best first baseman by WARP in 2005. That’s ahead of players like Carlos Delgado and Richie Sexson.
According to Will Carroll, Johnson was sidelined by a bone bruise in his heel in 2005. Unlike his previous back problems, the bruise isn’t expected to bother him in 2006. This is Johnson’s time to shine before he hits free agency. My hunch is that the Nationals will re-sign him to a one or two year contract worth maybe $7MM annually. It doesn’t seem like a team would commit more than two years to a player who’s never healthy. In addition to the Red Sox, the Devil Rays have expressed interest in Johnson in the past. Don’t be surprised if the Indians and Giants make a play for him this summer as well.
Projection wise, PECOTA thinks Johnson will hit .265/.385/.436 this season and be worth a little more than four wins. ZiPS expects more: .283/.402/.475. Ron Shandler projects .279/.385/.467. My projection is a .284 average with 20 HR and 66 RBIs in 412 ABs. For you concerned fantasy geeks out there, Johnson whiffs a tad too much to hit in the .290s. I doubt his employer cares about that in real life though.
It’s conceivable that Johnson could turn himself into a $10MM player with a single fully healthy season, taking a page from J.D. Drew. He was worth a lot more than that in 2005, and should be a hot commodity at the deadline. Problem is, the Nats don’t have anyone in the system to replace him.