Last offseason the statistically-obsessed among the Yankee faithful rejoiced upon the news that Brian Cashman had brought former Yankee farmhand, OBP machine and Yankeeist favorite Nick Johnson back into the fold. The Stick was supposed to fit seamlessly into Johnny Damon‘s recently vacated #2 slot, right where his .402 career on-base percentage belonged.
The injury-plagued Johnson muddled through an exceptionally poor April, though his .138/.383/.224 line was made significantly less miserable by (what else?) a stellar OBP, not to mention the fact that he also fell victim to some terribly bad luck on balls in play (.194 BABIP, 6th-worst in the AL that month). Just when it looked like the Stick was about to break out and assume his rightful role as an offensive force to be reckoned with (.286/.412/.643 in five May contests), he (surprise, surprise) was pulled from the lineup on May 7 against Boston, eventually had to have surgery that was initially expected to keep him out until the end of July, and of course, ultimately never made it back to the playing field in 2010. The Yankees easily declined the mutual option they held for Johnson on October 27, and the Stick hit free agency.
I opined back in November that Johnson might be useful as a bench piece were he willing to come back at a severely reduced salary, and given that we’ve heard barely a peep with regards to teams being interested in The Stick, he’s still available and the fact that the Yankees are looking into upgrading their bench in any way shape or form (as evidenced by the Eric Chavez and Ronnie Belliard signings), I’d still endorse a Nick the Stick reunion. I know he can’t field anywhere other than 1B, and therefore doesn’t meet the team’s needs for an extra glove, but still, it’s impossible to ignore his on-base percentage projections.
Bill James projects Johnson at .264/.411/.427, .374 wOBA in 415 PAs; Marcel says .256/.384/.488, .346 wOBA in 306 PAs; CAIRO has .258/.394/.398, .360 wOBA in 301 PAs; Oliver calls for a .262/.394/.397, .361 wOBA line in 357 PAs; and PECOTA projects a .256/.404/.395 line in 450 PAs, which, as Steven R. from RAB noted, is PECOTA’s second-highest OBP projection for all players in Major League Baseball. If you do a straight, unweighted average of those five OBP projections, you get .397. Injury issues and fielding limitations aside, whoever ends up signing Johnson is going to get quite an OBP bargain — assuming he can stay on the field.
Given that Cash likely has Johnson’s medicals permanently etched in his brain, I can only imagine he wants no part of a third go-round with the Stick, and Johnson’s continued availability indicates that every other MLB team feels similarly. However, Johnson’s lack of durability would not only make him an ideal buy-low candidate, but also dictates that his best use at this point in his career would be in a part-time role. I imagine he and his agent are still trying to sell his talents as a starting first baseman, but if they continue to get no interest at whatever salary level Johnson’s looking for, maybe he’d be willing to bite the bullet, come back to the Yankees in a reduced role and actually provide some of the production the team thought it was getting in 2010.
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