Making the case for Nick Johnson

With the off-season in progress, most people are expecting the Yankees to bring back Hideki Matsui to be their DH. Not a bad move since he still has something left in the tank, but another option is the one and only Nick Johnson. Here’s why:

1) Just this past season, NJ put up a line of .291/.426/.405/.373 wOBA in 574 PA. Despite missing all of 2007 and most of 2008, the man can still rake. Sure, he is still an injury liability, but much like Matsui, DH’ing can take a lot of pressure off his body that comes with the rigor of playing every game in the field. If he can amass 500+ PA, NJ will be a valuable member of the lineup.

Moreover, NJ is an OBP machine. His OBP was third in all of baseball last season. I doubt he’ll suddenly stop getting on base next season. Compared to Matsui, NJ is much more adept at getting on base. NJ’s only weakness last season was power. However, it was quite a mystery as to why his power dropped. His LD%, GB%, and FB% were all within 1% of his career averages. Yet his HR/FB% and ISO dropped significantly. Either he just got weaker, or it was a huge anomaly. But in the Bronx he’ll have the benefit of playing in a park that is homer friendly, especially to lefties. If he can regain some of his power, NJ could have a really good offensive season.

Bat him second in front of Tex and A-Rod, and the MVP award will be back in the Bronx. Bat him next to Swisher, and that’s a guaranteed pitch count nightmare for the pitcher.

2) Cost. Matsui made $13mil last season, and if he comes back it seems doubtful that he will take a pay cut. Meanwhile, NJ made just $5.5mil last season and going forward, it doesn’t look like he will be paid much more than that. I project NJ to be about a 2 WAR player next season as a DH . If he can be signed for about 1/6 or 2/12, he’ll be valuable not only because of his potential production, but because you can get the same production from him as you would Matsui, for a cheaper price. I can only imagine that Matsui’s contract would START around $10mil a year.

3) Depth. At this point, Matsui is strictly a DH. NJ played over 1000 innings at 1b in 2009. If need be, he can give Tex a rest every so often. This only adds to his value towards the Yankees, even if it is minor value.

Counter-argument: Losing Matsui could hurt Yankee relationship with Japan IF Matsui continues his career in MLB. Because of Matsui, the Yankees have a big following in Japan. If Matsui moves to another team, the Yankees could stand to lose a lot of the money they made from followers in Japan who would be Matsui apparrel and Yankee apparrel. However, I believe that if Matsui is not a Yankee in 2010, then he won’t be on any MLB team in 2010 (Although a team such as SEA or TB could use him).

Moreover, NJ is a “cheap” OBP threat. That is attractive to a lot of teams, not just the Yankees. For that reason, his price could be driven up negating his value compared to Matsui.

Conclusion: NJ is a cheaper option than Matsui, and can put up similar, if not better, production. Moreover, he adds more depth to the bench with his ability to play 1b and both players have injury concerns that offset each other. Johnson will probably be a .400 OBP guy at about 6 million a year, even if he only gets 450 PA. That is insanely good value- especially for the Yankees. Pitchers will have fun pitching to him and Swisher back to back, because that is an automatic, like, 100 pitches between the two.

Sign NJ.

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