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Report: Former National Nick Johnson Signed By Yankees

According to the New York Daily News, the World Champion New York Yankees have signed former Washington Nationals first baseman, Nick Johnson, to a one-year $5.5 million contract:

“The Yankees finalized a one-year deal, $5.5 million deal with first baseman/DH Nick Johnson Friday, effectively ending Johnny Damon’s tenure in pinstripes.

The deal will not be officially announced until sometime next week after Johnson completes a physical.

According to baseball sources, the 31-year old Johnson had more lucrative offers from a couple of other teams but wanted to return to the Yankees for whom he began his career in 2001.”

Analysis: Johnson will replace Johnny Damon in the second spot in the Yankees line up. While Johnson has considerably less speed than Damon (Johnson is arguably the slowest guy in the league), his on base percentage, .426, was far higher than Damon’s .365, which is the arguing point New York is standing by. Let’s not forget however, that Johnson also accepted a deal for only one year, and $7.5 million less than Damon was asking for.

Don’t be blinded by Johnson’s on-base percentage however. While in his last two healthy seasons he has reached .426 and .428 in OBP, his slugging percentage is continually declining from .530 in 2006, to .431 in 2008 (he missed all of 2007 with an injury), to a measly .405 in 2009. While we know that OBP is arguably more important than slugging, his wOBA has gone down year after year as well; .405 in 2006, .374 in 2008, and .373 in 2009. The bottom line is that while he may have the same eye he had in 2006, perhaps the injuries have stripped him of power and bat speed.

A look at Johnson’s last two healthy seasons:
2006: .290/.428/.520, 23 HR, 46 2B, .404 wOBA, 5.3 WAR
2009: .291/.426/.405, 8 HR, 24 2B, .373 wOBA, 2.4 WAR

Johnson of course will be helped by several factors that hurt him when he was with the Nationals. First he will be a left handed hitter in the new Yankee Stadium, which is far more hitter friendly than the new Nats park which is relatively spacious. Second, Johnson will certainly benefit from playing the DH position. A constant injury threat, Johnson can focus on being a professional hitter as a DH, and will not have to worry about injuries.

For the Nationals, this deal seems to justify their decision to trade Nick back in July. It has been reported that Johnson had received better offers from other teams, but that he chose to take less money to return to the Yankees. The Nationals would not have received such a deal from Johnson, and likely would have had to pay upwards of $6-7 million.

In return, the Nationals received pitching prospect Aaron Thompson. Thompson, 22, is a former first round pick for the Marlins and pitched relatively well in his six starts for the Nationals double-A affiliate last summer. Thompson posted a 3.31 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 32 innings pitched.

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