Friday, November 28, 2008

Don't Trade Nick, at Least Not Now

Nick Johnson when healthy is the best offensive player the Nationals have. Period. Better than Zim. Better than Dukes. Someday maybe one of those guys will take another step and overtake him, but Nick Johnson, with his tremendous on-base skills and good power, not to mention solid defense and baserunning, is a very, very good, almost great player.

The injuries indeed are frustrating. It's possible that Nick will never again put together a season like 2006, when his OPS+ of 149 (meaning he was 49% more productive than the average major-league hitter) made him the fourth most valuable first-baseman in all of baseball, behind Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, and Lance Berkman, and ahead of, among others, Mark Teixeira. In fact, Tex's career-best OPS+ is a nearly identical 151.

Then again, at age 30, Nick Johnson could very well go out and replicate that performance for the next 2-3 seasons. I know, I know. You're rolling your eyes at the thought of Nick even staying on the field for half the next three years. But the point is that his high-end value is far above anything we could hope to get for him now, and his trade value if he, for instance, has a true Johnson-esque first half in 2009, will skyrocket.

I could have been supportive of trading Nick at his peak value. In 2005 or 2006, he could have fetched a king's ransom from a contender in need of a first-baseman. But to trade him now would be to flip him at his absolute lowest value, and it just doesn't make sense.

We're far better off just holding onto him, hoping that he rebounds, and then if we're committed to flipping him for youth (not a terrible idea), making a deal after he re-establishes himself as an elite offensive player.

Or, if you're more inclined to focues on making the Nationals better in the short-term, then we should definitely hold onto him, because no one we're going to get back for him has the potential to be what Nick could be (all together now...) if healthy.

As for the Oakland A's reported interest in Nick, every Nationals fan should shudder at the thought of Billy Beane dealing with Jim Bowden. The chances that we come out on the better end of a deal between those two--arguably the very best and very worst GMs in all of baseball--is remote indeed.


Wil Nieves said...

If you trust Chico, he seems to think that Nick's not necessarily going anywhere anytime soon. Are you advocating just making a permanent DL (and salary) spot for Nick?

Steven said...

That's a really unfair cheap shot. He broke his leg. He tore a tendon sheath. Those are bad injuries, and bad luck. He also seems to be a slow healer, so I don't blame people for being cynical about him. But at least he has the talent to be a great player. Most of the rest of the players on our roster could never perform like Nick at his best no matter what. He'll be a "red" health risk until he proves otherwise, but this comment is unfair.

BTW--if there was ever any question about whether you are really Wil Nieves, that is eliminated with this comment. No ballplayer would ever make this comment (except the absolute worst teammate imaginable, which Nieves is not). You really shoudn't comment in his name if you're going to slam teammates or exhibit poor sportsmanship.

Wil Nieves said...

this was not intended to be a below-the-belt shot at nick, i was merely trying to point out how emotionally attached you seem to be to him. yes, he is the best player on the nats *when healthy*. yes, he is an on-base-machine *when healthy*. yes, he is a great guy in the clubhouse. no, the injuries aren't his fault. but the last two injuries were not "fluke injuries." when he was traded to the expos by the yankees, it was noted at the time that he had missed two months the previous year, and that injuries to his hands, wrists, and fingers had plagued his entire (brief) career. additionally, he has been hurt every year since he joined the expos/nats.

the extension he signed in march 06 was a steal, if he had been healthy. unfortunately, in 07 and 08 (2 of the 3 years of his extension), he has been paid $11 million, more than anyone else on the team, and appeared in only 38 games. [during those 38 games, he got on base 57 times (!), which is clearly amazing for the nats, and exactly what we need.] however, in 07 and 08, he was paid 14.7% and 10.0% of the opening day roster payroll, respectively.

dmtri young, who you constantly berate bowden for giving an extension, has not shown the same greatness, but he has played in 186 games (almost 5 times as many), and his numbers were not as abysmal as you make them out to be (i will not comment on his defense). in fact, young's 0.869 ops in 07 was higher than nick's in 08 (0.846) and dmtri's 08 obp (0.394) was 6th in the national league (only 2 spots below nick). and if you assume he is cut right now (which seems to be a fair assumption), he will have been paid only $10.5 million.

my hope is that nick will come back next season and have a great year (and career) whether with the nats or on another team. my worry, however, is that by holding on to him, and planning around him, and continuing to expect him to be healthy, we will have a repeat of the 08 disaster. so if bowden could get something for him this offseason, even if only prospects to keep building the system, this would likely serve us well in the future. [particularly if someone else good and less injury prone is signed to play 1b.] and yes, perhaps it would be better to wait and let him reestablish himself and then trade, but what if we wait one day too late, and he suffers another injury. what then?

Steven said...

Who are you quoting when you write "fluke injury" I wonder. Those aren't my words. Just wondering.

I'm not emotionally attached to Nick Johnson. I think it's smart to hold onto an asset whose value has a good chance of appreciating.

The way to avoid a repeat of '08 is to have a rocksolid plan B. The problem wasn't going into the season with NIck as plan A. It was going into the season with Meat as plan B. If you are going to have that much injury risk in your starter, you can't back it up with an even riskier plan B. And of course 2 years and 10 million was absurdly over market value for Meat.

Wil Nieves said...

I apologize, it should have read "bad luck." "Fluke injuries" was my interpretation of that statement.

I don't understand why you think his trade value is at its lowest right now. Wouldn't it actually be higher now, when teams know that he will most likely be ready to start the season, will most likely return to his amazing performances, and most likely will do all of this on their team? It seems to me that if he isn't traded in the offseason, the alternatives are that he comes back for the Nats and either a) is really good and then contenders are still hesitant to trade for him for fear that he won't last the rest of the year, or b) he won't come back as strong and then the Nats won't be able to get anything for him?

I'm not advocating an immediate trade, I'm just trying to point out that if Bowden could get something good for him (a big if, I know), it might work out well for the Nats of the future. And you have to admit, he has been paid a lot of money for not a lot of performance (through no fault of his own).

Jim said...

I'm with Wil.

Nick's wild-card status cuts both ways. Your original post assumes that he is being shopped around at his minimum trade value. I think that is incorrect. For starters, it assumes that Nick's value could only improve, when in fact it could utterly tank if he gets hurt AGAIN in spring training.

I think that in Johnson, Bowden is trading a "probability"-- a human lottery ticket. The ticket may turn out to be a bust, or a spectacular bargain.

Other teams are just as aware of what Nick can do *if* he recovers fully. The question is, do the Nats hold on to the lotto ticket, or sell the lotto ticket if they get a really good offer? I think that if the Nats can get an offer consistent with what they would get for trading away a hypothetical healthy player with even just 70% of Nick's plus-OPS, they should take it.

Nick is not part of the first championship Nats team anyway.

Will said...

I'm with Steven here. I don't think NJ's value can get much lower than it is right now. He's played in 38 of 324 games in the last two years. He's still rehabbing from last year's injury and should be ready for Spring Training. As most A's fans have said at MLB Trade Rumors they don't value NJ too highly, and I expect that is the case with most others around the league. I think our best option would be to keep NJ until the deadline, while crossing our fingers that he stays healthy.

Right now, we're selling a $1 lottery ticket with a chance to be worth something. If NJ can put together a healthy couple months, we're selling a winning lotto ticket worth millions.

JayB said...

"we're selling a $1 lottery ticket with a chance to be worth something".........I think the lottery analogy is exactly right......odds are about the same....I would sell my $1 ticket to the A's and move one with my life rather than plan that the ticket will solve my problems when it pays off big.

Steve Shoup said...

Steven the problem with your arguement is that you are hoping that Nick can replicate a preformance he had two year and two injuries ago. That in and of itself is unlikely. He has had freak injuries the last two seasons, and also missed his 2000 season with an injury that doctors weren't even able to ever diagnose. I just feel it begins to be a pattern like a John Patterson, or Shawn Hill, some people's bodies just weren't meant to sustain those types of injuries. The other issue with your arguement is you suppose that Johnson's value is in being an offensive force for the next 2-3 years. The problem is he is only signed for one more season, so if he does produce this year we will have to resign him to a decent sized contract. If he was under contract then i'd probably agree with you b/c the Nats would be selling low on a guy with alot of skill when he is healthy. But as it stands now it might be best to just take what you can get for him and move the money you save to another area of the team. I just don't look forward to the idea of extending Johnson only to have him continully get injured. Keeping him till the deadline is another option but I feel if he is producing the pressure will be to extend him, i.e. Young, Belly, Guzman.