Archive for Nick Johnson
Got two small updates on former Yankees. First, Nick Johnson has decided to call it a career according to Sweeny Murti. The 34-year-old retires as a .268/.399/.441 (126 wRC+) hitter with a 15.7% walk rate, though injuries — specifically to his right wrist and hand — derailed his career. More than anything, this gives me a chance to post Johnson’s batting line with Double-A Norwich in 1999: .345/.525/.548 with 123 walks, 88 strikeouts, and 37 hit-by-pitches. Yes, 37 hit-by-pitches.
Second, Freddy Garcia has signed a minor league contract with the Padres according to multiple reports. Garcia, 36, should do quite well in Petco Park given his extreme fly ball ways. Plus it’s a minor league deal, so tough to complain about that. The sweaty one posted a 4.29 ERA and 4.35 FIP in 254 innings with the Yankees over the last two season. Good luck in San Diego, Freddy, see you in the World Series.
The free agent market brims with left-handed hitters who could play the role of part-time DH for the Yankees. The list comprises many household names, and each could provide the Yankees with quality at-bats in a part-time role. Each is also flawed, which is pretty standard for any remaining free agent (Prince Fielder excepting). Yet that could work in the Yankees’ favor. It means the players are likely open to a part-time role, which fits the Yankees’ needs well enough. It also means that they’ll likely fit into the $1 to $2 million budget the Yankees have reportedly set for the DH spot.
Even better: Most, if not all, of these candidates could sign minor league deals. That means all the upside for virtually no risk. Here they are, in the reverse order of preference.
Nick Johnson: Many, if not most, Yankees fans will retch upon seeing this. The last go-round with Johnson ended horribly. He came to the plate just 98 times and hit for extra bases just six times. He did walk a lot, as can be expected, but that’s about all he did. Last year Johnson rehabbed in the Indians system, though he didn’t even crack a .320 OBP at AAA. He also experienced wrist issues, again, earlier in the season. If the Yankees do want to give Johnson another look, it simply has to be in addition to someone else.
Dan Johnson: We all remember the other Johnson from his bottom of the ninth heroics in Game 162 last season. Johnson apparently has a penchant for this type of hit. They do call him The Great Pumpkin, after all, because he comes around once a year and hits a big homer, usually to the Red Sox peril. Problem is, he hasn’t really hit in the majors since 2007. He does clobber AAA, having produced a .445 wOBA in 2010 and a .374 wOBA in 2011. But that apparently doesn’t help his major league performance much. Again, he’s a fine option if there’s someone else ahead of him.
Hideki Matsui: We know that the Yankees have been in contact with Matsui, but they’ve likely been in contact with many other similar players as well. As Mike noted in that brief post, Matsui’s 2011 stunk pretty badly. He was stuck in Oakland, and his slow start did not help his case. At age 38, he could be all but finished in the bigs. But on a minor league deal he could be an interesting option. After all, he did have a decent 2010 season, particularly in the second half. Return him to the familiar confines of Yankee Stadium and limit his at-bats to right-handed pitchers, and he might have one more year left in him.
J.D. Drew: There is no doubt that Drew, now age 36, is in stark decline. After putting up two phenomenal years for the Red Sox in 2008 and 2009 he’s seen his numbers drop in the last two years, and last year particularly. Drew also spent considerable time on the DL last year. A platoon DH role could help mitigate some of that injury risk, but the declining numbers, particularly in terms of power, are a bit disconcerting. He gets bumped to the mid-tier because of his name value, his batting eye, and his ability to play the outfield if necessary. The Yanks would really have to believe that they can get a quality 400 PA out of him if they were to even sign him to a minor league deal.
Casey Kotchman: Last season the Rays signed Kotchman to a minor league deal, and that worked out exceedingly well for them. In 563 PA he produced a 125 wRC+, mainly on the strength of his .378 OBP. At the same time, much of that value came from his .306 batting average, which was almost 40 points higher than his career average. As expected of a left-handed hitter, he did handle righties quite a deal better than lefties, producing a 136 wRC+ against them. But unless Kotchman turned something around for real in 2011, it’s tough to get past his career 102 wRC+ against righties.
Raul Ibanez: There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Ibanez, whose 2012 will be his age-40 season. His numbers took a big dip in 2011, particularly his walk rate. He managed to walk in just 5.7 percent of his PA, his lowest rate since 1998 (when he came to the plate just 103 times). The good news is that he’s one year removed from a pretty decent season, and even in his poor season he hit righties well enough. In 2010 he was even better, with a 116 wRC+ against righties. He’s a risk, for sure, but if the Yankees can keep Ibanez fresh he could whale quite a few homers at Yankee Stadium.
Russell Branyan: This is my official endorsement for Branyan, who is the ideal candidate for a platoon DH role. His career 120 wRC+ against righties looks attractive enough, but it’s his .259 career ISO against righties that looks the most attractive. He’ll strike out his share, but he’ll also launch quite a few bombs — we’ve already seen two mammoth homers of his at Yankee Stadium. While last year was a down year, in 2010 Branyan produced a 137 wRC+ against righties, including 19 homers and 17 doubles in 322 PA. A return to that level, minus all PA against left-handed pitching, makes for an ideal fit. He and Andruw Jones would make a powerful and cost-effective DH platoon.
Again, every player on this list is flawed, some greatly so. Clearly they’d be better off with a more sure things, such as Carlos Pena. But if they really do have a budget of $1 to $2 million for a DH, one or more of these guys might be the way to go. They all have the potential to produce decent to very good numbers against right-handed pitching, which is just what the Yankees seek. That they’d all come on minor league deals makes them even more attractive, since that eliminates almost all of the risk. If the Yankees do not find a true righty-mashing DH, they’d do well enough with a Branyan or an Ibanez.
Ah yes, the return of the regular old mailbag. We milked some questions for longer posts over the holidays, but here’s one of the old school, quick hits style mailbags that we’ve all grown to love. This week’s topics include a potential trade for Ryan Madson, interest in Matt Garza, using Cliff Lee money on prospects, Nick Johnson‘s job prospects, Gil Meche, and book recommendations. If you want to send in a question, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go.
Steve asks: Do you think there’s a chance the Phils will trade Ryan Madson, say for Nunez & one of their young pitchers? This way if they can play Nunez at ss & trade Jimmy Rollins save around 12m.
No way. The Phillies are clearly going all in right now, as they should because the core of the team consists of players on the wrong side of 30 (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, etc.), and they won’t be productive forever. Madson is arguably the best setup man in the game, and they sure as hell won’t trade Jimmy Rollins. He’s massively overrated but still a damn fine player, and who’s taking on that contract? I’d love to see Madson in pinstripes because he’s downright awesome, but it would take a lot more than Eduardo Nunez and a pitching prospect to even get their attention.
Tucker asks: If Matt Garza was in a different division, would the Yanks be all over him?
Yeah, probably. Young enough (27), cheap enough ($3.35M last year and is up for arbitration for the second time this winter), healthy enough (hasn’t missed a start since April of 2008), and effective enough (4.24 FIP last three years, identical to Gavin Floyd and Brett Myers). He’d be an ideal target, but I can’t see the Rays trading him within the division. Andrew Friedman’s been calling the shots in Tampa Bay since the end of the 2005 season, and he’s made exactly one three trades within the AL East: he acquired Chad Bradford and Gregg Zaun from the Orioles in separate deals, and he also dealt Nick Green to the Yankees. Just not gonna happen, not at a reasonable cost anyway.
Late update: Looks like Garza’s headed to the Cubbies.
Sam asks: Does any part of you wish that the Yanks would re-allocate some of the money they almost spent on Cliff Lee to trying to sign more high-end international guys/draft picks than they would have originally? I get that what they already spend is substantial but I would love to see them throw an extra 2-3 million into both budgets.
Of course, but as you said, they do spend a bunch of money as it is. You can always spend more, but eventually you’ll reach a point where you’re just throwing money away because the rate of return is so low. We can complain about a lot of things with the Yankees, but the farm system isn’t one of them. They know what they’re doing in that department these days.
Matt asks: Was looking back at the 2010 roster, and who the Yanks were getting rid of and keeping. One that I know won’t be back in Nick Johnson, but is there any clue where he would go ?
Reportedly, NJ is fully recovered from his latest wrist surgery and is working out twice a day down in Arizona. He was in the mix for Oakland’s designated hitter job at one point, but they’ve since signed Hideki Matsui. The Cubs were also in the mix before they signed Carlos Pena, but that’s pretty much it. We haven’t heard a peep about Johnson all offseason. Just look at how little activity there is in his MLBTR archive.
I don’t know where he could go next year now that most of the major free agent first baseman are off the board and teams in need of a DH will turn to Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez or Vlad Guerrero. Maybe the Rays? Twins? Angels? The Marlins are seeking a lefty hitting bat off the bench, and he played there for half-a-season, so maybe that fits. If he was willing to take one of those ever popular minor league “prove yourself in Spring Training” contract with a mid-summer opt out date, I’d be all over the guy. No risk with that type of contract, and it could end up having a high reward.
Howard asks: It is pitching (of course) which we want to discuss—maybe a deal for Soria would be easier if we took Meche and his contract at the same time? Is Meche still a capable starter? And why do the Yankees insist on keeping Mr. Chamberlain in the bullpen? His performance as a starter was quite good when they let him pitch on regular rest.
Once upon a time, Meche tossed up two consecutive seasons of at least 210 innings pitched and a 3.82 FIP. Of course that was three years ago. He’s since been battling back and most notably shoulder injuries, and his performance has cratered: just a 5.03 FIP in 190.2 IP over the last two seasons. Meche finished the 2010 season as a reliever (and a pretty good one at that), and the decision has already been made by the Kansas City brain trust that he will return to that role next season. They don’t think he’s physically up to starting after missing 150 days with shoulder issues in the last two seasons.
So to answer the first question, no, he’s no longer a capable starter. With a $12M salary, he’s a deal breaker if the Royals want to try to lump him into any potential Soria trade. As for the second question, I don’t think any of us know why they insist on keeping Joba in the bullpen. I’m sure they have a very valid reason (Brian Cashman said something like “his stuff just isn’t the same as a starter,” but … duh), but we outsiders don’t know what it is. I’d love love love to see him given a chance to start again, but I’ve accepted that it just won’t happen. For shame.
Dan asks: After just finishing Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, which was brilliant I might add, can you suggest other books of the same quality? I know that these long, drawn out winter days make everyone a bit nostalgic. What better way to keep the flames burning then with a decent read through Yankee, or Baseball in general, history/insight? I know I’d love to get some suggestions from Yankee writers and fans on titles that are not to be missed.
I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know anything about it and can’t make any good recommendations. However, I’m sure some of our readers have, and I’m willing to bet they have some recommendations to offer. If you have one (or some), leave it in the comments.
The Yankees have declined their 2011 options for Kerry Wood ($11M), Lance Berkman ($15M), and Nick Johnson ($5.5M), the club announced today. Puma gets a $2 million buyout, Johnson $250,000. As far as I can tell, Wood gets nothing. None of these should come as surprises, and in fact one of the conditions of Berkman’s accepting the trade to New York was that the team had to decline his option. I guess he really didn’t want to stick around. The Yanks could try to bring Wood back, but that salary is far too rich for a setup man.
The Yanks did pick one option today: Andrew Brackman‘s. I have no idea what the money is on that, but it’s not substantial. Even if they would have declined it, he’s still under team control for five more years. They also hold options for 2012 and 2013 as part of the big league deal Brackman signed out of the draft in 2007.
Over the next week or two or three, we’re going to recap the season that was by looking at what went right as well as what went wrong for the 2010 Yankees.
In the aftermath of their 2009 World Series celebration, the Yankees were facing several tough decisions with stalwart players. Both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui were free agents after their identical four-year, $52MM contracts expired, but Brian Cashman and the rest of the brain trust remained in “get younger and more athletic” mode. Despite all of their postseason heroics, Damon and Matsui were still a pair of 36-year-olds last winter, with the latter having significant concerns about the health of his knees.
The first domino fell barely a week into December, when the Yankees swung a three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York. That filled the vacant outfield spot, leaving the designated hitter’s job the only one left open. Matsui took himself out of the running five days after the Grandy trade by signing a one-year deal with the Angels at 50% pay cut. His reason for signing quickly was sound; he didn’t want to be shut out in a market that getting more and more unkind to DH types. Understandable.
Damon and Scott Boras were sticking to their guns about a multi-year deal without a significant pay cut, and the two sides were still worlds apart on a deal after the Grandy trade. With Johnny and Boras playing hard-to-get, the Yankees moved on to a familiar face to fill the DH hole, signing Nick Johnson to a one-year deal a week after Matsui went to SoCal. The contract was worth just $5.5M with incentives tied to plate appearances, very reasonable considering the $13M both Damon and Matsui made last year.
Everyone knew about Johnson’s laundry list of injury trouble, but there were reasons to be optimistic about his ability to stay on the field in 2010. After missing all of 2007 and most of the 2008 season, he stayed on the field for 574 plate appearances in 2009, his most since 2006 and the second most of his career. Getting him out of the field and resting comfortably as a designated hitter also figured to help him stay fresh and in the lineup. And, of course, a man with a .402 career on-base percentage (.426 in 2009, third best in baseball) figured to make baseball’s best lineup even more potent. The Yankees had their new DH, and Damon eventually found a one-year deal in Detroit.
The trouble for Johnson started almost right away. He missed the team’s second Spring Training game with a stiff back, brought about when he caught a spike in batting practice. The lower back issue popped back up in late April, causing NJ to miss two games and three days. Through the season’s first 27 games, Johnson remained a strong on-base threat (.396 OBP) but he wasn’t doing much with the stick (.171 AVG, .143 ISO). The Yanks were in Fenway Park on May 7th, and Johnson was in the lineup as the DH and in his customary second spot in the lineup. His first at-bat resulted in the second of three straight Josh Beckett strikeouts, and his second trip to the plate resulted in a weak groundout to the second baseman to lead off the fourth. That was the last time we would see Johnson in 2010.
Marcus Thames pinch hit one inning later, replacing Johnson who was sidelined a sore wrist. It was the same wrist he had surgery on in 2008, causing him to spend 137 total days on the disabled list. An MRI revealed an inflamed tendon, and the original diagnosis had NJ missing several weeks. Less than two weeks later, Johnson was on the surgeon’s table after a cortisone failed to do the trick. Three months after that, the same wrist was sore yet again, and one week later he was again having surgery. All told, Johnson spent 166 days on the disabled list in 2010, falling short of the very modest 100 plate appearance plateau, finishing with just 98.
Looking back, it’s clear the team (and us fans as well) was mesmerized by the potential of having someone reach base 40+% of the time in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, and who wouldn’t be? The problem was that Johnson offered little in the way of power (though 20 homers in Yankee Stadium was very possible) and even less in terms of dependability and durability. Even if the Yanks declined to meet Damon’s demands, better (and cheaper) DH targets like Jim Thome ($1.5M) and Russell Branyan ($2M) didn’t come off the board until late in the offseason. That obviously comes with the benefit of hindsight, however.
For all intents and purposes, what played out was the worst case scenario for both the Yankees and Johnson. The team had to scramble to find a replacement DH, eventually trading a pair of young players at the deadline to fill the hole, and Johnson now faces an uncertain winter coming off surgery. Cashman admitted during Monday’s press conference that Johnson was his Plan C at DH, behind Damon and Matsui. He might as well have called him Plan K, because the 2010 edition of Nick Johnson was a big fat whiff.
Vladimir Guerrero played no small role in torturing the Yankees this past weekend. The one hitter the Yanks never signed but should have twice, Vlad knocked out six hits in 13 at-bats and even walked once for a cool .500 OBP. He swung at pitches at which he had no business swinging, but it’s always worked for him. Making just $6.5 million, he’s hitting .305/.348/.503 with 26 home runs, and the Yanks could have had him for $1 million more than Nick Johnson is making.
Johnson, of course, was the Yanks’ choice for the DH spot. With three free agent options — Guerrero, Matsui, Johnson — for that empty hole, the Yanks went with the youngest guy coming off a season in which he played 133 games and got on base 42.6 percent of the time. For $5.5 million, it seemed like the best choice, but Johnson played all of 24 games before coming down with a wrist injury. He won’t be back in 2011.
For the Yankees, though, the designated hitter spot hasn’t been a problem this year. Led by Marcus Thames, A-Rod and, to a lesser extent, Jorge Posada, the team’s DHs are hitting a combined .263/.348/.459 with 23 home runs in 583 plate appearances. Their sOPS+ — the overall OPS relative to the league split — is 114.
In fact, Nick Johnson’s injury allowed the Yankee braintrust to exploit the DH spot as they seem to prefer. Without a full-time designated hitter, the slot became one of rest. The DH hole allowed the Yanks to keep Jorge Posada, banged up and bruised all season, in the lineup more frequently than they could have. It allowed them to give A-Rod’s balky legs some time off the turf. It allowed them to ride a very hot Marcus Thames during the team’s recent eight-game winning streak.
Yet, that rotating DH spot has a residual impact on the rest of the lineup, and through it, we can see the weaknesses in the Yanks’ current roster construction. When, for instance, Alex Rodriguez DHs, someone else has to play third base, and that someone else — Ramiro Peña, Eduardo Nuñez, Kevin Russo — isn’t a very good hitter. In fact, Yankee third basemen are hitting .252/.316/.418 this season with an sOPS+ of 95. A-Rod’s contribution to that is a 116, which just goes to show how bad the rest of the team’s third base options are offensively.
The same problem arises behind the plate. Jorge Posada as a catcher has a .906 OPS and a 156 sOPS+. Francisco Cervelli, a fine player if used properly, has an sOPS+of 96 and nearly 300 plate appearances behind the plate. Against right-handers, in particularly, Cervelli is an offensive liablity, but he’s been pressed into service because Jorge Posada is 39.
For now, this imbalance brought about by the rotating DH is a problem that should plague the Yankees only in 2010. In fact, because of Jesus Montero‘s development and Jorge Posada’s contract, the Yanks have the DH situation largely in hand next year. Montero ought to be the primary catcher with Posada as the primary DH. Francisco Cervelli, then, will serve as the late-inning defensive replacement for Montero who can also start against left-handers when need be.
That three-headed DH/catcher platoon solves half of the problem. The Yankees still need to keep an eye on their bench for 2011, and they should go into and play out the season with a back-up infielder better than Ramiro Peña (and his third base sOPS+ of 12) available to them. Who that will be remains to be seen, but the Yanks have the money to spend on the bench.
Had Brian Cashman used his crystal ball to sign Vladimir Guerrero to a one-year deal ten months ago, we would be pleasantly thrilled with his production. But that was then, and this is now. If they play their cards right, they won’t have a DH problem come 2011.
Via Jack Curry, long lost designated hitter Nick Johnson needs surgery on his already surgically repaired wrist. By my count, this will be his third procedure on the wrist in the last three seasons, and that doesn’t include a fracture that cost him the entire 2000 season in the minors. Poor guy, if he didn’t have bad luck with injuries, he’d have no luck at all.
Via Brendan Prunty, Joe Girardi said before today’s game that Nick Johnson‘s surgically repaired wrist is once again barking. The first baseman/designated hitter had resumed baseball activities at the end of last month, though I think it’s safe to assume those have been put on hold for the time being. Even if he was able to come back as a pinch hitter walker in September, it would have been a nice little boost down the stretch. I guess we might as well forget about that now.
I was all for the NJ signing back when it happened, but it was obviously a huge mistake in hindsight. For shame.
A post this morning on Baseball Time in Arlington got me thinking about the DH situation. There were four big DH free agents heading into the offseason — Nick Johnson, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jim Thome — and it looks like the Yankees made the wrong choice. Nick Johnson is out for the year and is providing the team no value. Meanwhile the other three remain healthy. Throughout the season I’ve seen fans complain about the team picking Johnson over Matsui, since it was such an obvious mistake. Yet when I looked at it, the result isn’t so obvious.
Johnson has been out since early May, having produced 0.1 WAR before hurting his wrist. That’s not a great return on $5.5 million. Matsui has been healthy enough to accumulate 411 PA, more than four times the number Johnson managed. Yet Matsui has produced an identical 0.1 WAR. In other words, while Matsui has stayed healthy he hasn’t done much to help his team. Hell, even Juan Miranda has produced 0.1 WAR this season.
The big winner among the foursome is obviously Vlad, who has produced 2.1 WAR despite a recent downturn. Yet Jim Thome, in 212 fewer plate appearances, has produced 1.8 WAR. If the Yanks were looking for a left-handed DH, he gets the hindsight award for the pick I’d endorse.
A two-month long stint on the disabled list and one setback later, Nick Johnson has finally resumed baseball activities down in Tampa. The forgotten Yankee is simply taking grounders at first right now, though he did hit test his surgically repaired wrist by hitting some soft toss with a fungo bat earlier in the week. He also took some dry hacks with a regular bat.
“I don’t really know what to think at this point,” said Joe Girardi on Tuesday. “Until he starts actually taking swings in batting practice, I don’t know what to make of it, when we might get him back.”
Johnson is pretty much in the same boat as Al Aceves; anything the Yankees get out of him from here on out is a bonus. They can’t, and shouldn’t count on him staying productive and healthy the rest of the season given the nature of his injury. It sure would be nice to have OBP Jesus and his military style plate discipline bat in the lineup, though.
Long-time RABer Andy in Sunny Daytona provided the info and picture above, so everyone thank Andy.