The New York Yankees are finalizing the details on a one year $5.5 million contract with designated hitter and first baseman Nick Johnson. Johnson played for the Yankees during the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons. During that span, Johnson appeared in 248 games, hit .258 and clubbed 31 home runs.
As the one time heir apparent to Tino Martinez, Johnson, who was a homegrown Yankee having come up through the Yankee farm system after being drafted by the club in 1996, was dealt after the 2003 season to the Montreal Expos. Injury prone throughout much of his career, Johnson’s projected role with New York diminished when the Yankees opted to sign free agent slugger Jason Giambi.
Nick Johnson has not, due mainly to injuries, had the same type of career that Martinez or Giambi did. However, during his first stint with the Yankees, he was a player that many fans saw as a worthy heir to the types of players that made the late 1990’s Yankees teams so successful. He is a high on base percentage hitter, (.402 for his career) a solid defensive player and a professional on and off the field. When the Yankees decide to let Martinez walk and sign Giambi, it marked a point when they were getting away from the type of balanced team approach that had allowed them to build the most successful and enduring modern day baseball dynasty. As Giambi was joined by high priced veterans such as Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, and Kenny Lofton, the type of player that Nick Johnson represented was phased out.
In recent years, the Yankees have become more patient and look for value oriented players who can fill a particular need. Make no mistake, they still sign free agents like no other team can; last year’s offseason brought Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett into the fold. But even when spending money at the levels that those players command, the Yankees are doing it in a smart fashion. General Manager Brian Cashman lobbied for an increased budget during last year’s postseason as he knew this year’s free agent class was relatively barren. He also passed on trading for Johann Santana after the 2007 season as it would have been effectively a trade of prized prospects on top of a free agent signing as Santana would approve a trade only if his contract extension demands were met.
While Nick Johnson , now 31 years old, will not be the biggest impact Yankee in the lineup (he projects to hit sixth or even seventh and serve mostly as DH with some time, though not a lot, at first base), his return is symbolic that this is once again a franchise under control and making smart moves based on solid professionals, most often with high on base percentages, that will fit well into the overall scheme of the team.
Source: George King, “Yankees move closer to signing Johnson as DH”, nypost.com