Going on 31-years-old, Nick Johnson is no longer a spring chicken yet he has never made it through a full season without having it prematurely ended by an injury. Out of a possible 1,235 career games, Johnson has played in just 735, which is under 60%. After he missed all of 2007 and only played 38 games in 2008, people, including the Nationals' front office, had their doubts that his anatomy ever would hold up over a 162 game span but because he posted a .290/.428/.520/.948 line in his most extensive season, were willing to take the chance year after year. Finally, in 2009, Johnson has made it through the entire first half for the first time since his longest season in 2006 and for just the fourth time in eight years without even so much as a cold. He's hitting .295/.408/.402/.810. The Nationals couldn't be happier. Or could they be? Rumor has it the rebuilding Nats would be happier with the likes of Aaron Thompson and Ryan Tucker.
The Marlins are making a strong push for Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson, but the teams have been unable to reach an agreement on the player the Nationals would receive in return, according to a major league source.I can't stress how huge this would be for the marlins. finally, finally a bonified (no pun intended) two hole hitter. Johnson has only failed to reach base in 11 of his starts this year. He's played 98 games. Since the All-Star break, he's OBPing .483. Even after the Nationals moved Johnson down in the lineup, he hasn't shown as much power as he has in the past but with a .400+ OBP and Hanley Ramirez and Jorge Cantu potentially hitting behind him, that's a sacrifice the Marlins would be willing to make. Hitting second this year, Johnson is batting .305/.426/.425/.851. Not to mention what Johnson would bring on defense. This year hasn't been a great year for him at first base as he's posted a -7 in +/- but, for his career, he's still a +4 and has gold glove potential. Heading into this year, he was a +11. The Marlins haven't done much better with Cantu at first this year anyways as he is a -3. Thinking bigger picture, he would bring the power to move Emilio Bonifacio and his 15 errors which leads all MLB 3Bs, to the bench.
The Marlins have offered the Nationals a minor league pitching prospect for Johnson. Among the names under discussion: Class AA left-hander Aaron Thompson Class AAA right-hander Ryan Tucker. Johnson, 30, is a free agent at the end of the season. He would be a two-month rental for the Marlins at a cost of approximately $1.8 million.
Looking at what the Nationals want in return, I'm obsessed. Over the past two years, Thompson has posted ERAs of 5.15 and 4.74 and has never pitched above AA. He's already 22. Thompson, whose prospect status isn't great, may turn into a serviceable back of the rotation guy but that's about it and not for at least another two years. The other piece, Tucker, has pitched in the majors with the Marlins before and posted an 8.27 ERA in 37 innings with six of his 13 outings being starts. After those debacles in which he posted a decent .265/.346/.412/.758 in innings 1-3 but a terrible .351/.448/.737/1.185 line in innings 4-6, the Marlins converted tucker into a reliever. His future isn't in the rotation but in the bullpen as a late reliever or closer but like Thompson, not for at least another year or two as he's in his second AA year this year and is still posting gaudy numbers such as a 1.4 WHIP and a 9.6 H/9. He, as well, is already 22. Even if the Marlins rent Johnson from the Nats for two months and he goes back to Washington in free agency thereby virtually resulting in the Marlins giving them free players, the Fish probably won't lose much and the Nats probably won't gain much. However, it's a move that could push the Marlins into the playoffs and it's a low risk chance that makes all the sense in the world for a franchise like Washington to take.
It looks as though the Marlins have pushed Heath Bell to the back burner turned all of their attention to acquiring Johnson. I'll update this and the Bell situation throughout the day up until and maybe even after the 4:00 deadline.
4:02 PM - It wasn't so! Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Marlins have acquired Nick Johnson for Aaron Thompson with the Nationals picking up the remaining $1.8 mil on Johnson's salary. Huge!
3:46 PM - Conflicting reports surfacing now saying the Marlins are still in the hunt for Bell with 14 minutes to go.
3:30 PM - Ken Rosenthal reports that both deals appear to have fallen through the cracks. The Marlins were unwilling to ship out both lefties and did not want to part with Aaron Thompson. "Dead and over" sources say. Two years in a row? Say it ain't so!
3:09 PM - Getting some sketchy info from a source with lines in both teams that the Nationals have asked for pitchers Sean West and Andrew Miller in return for Josh Willingham and Nick Johnson. At this point, with the early callup in Detroit and all the tinkering the Marlins have done with him only to fail to fix him, it's pretty much safe to say Miller is bordering on a broken prospect that will never be much more than a back of the rotation starter. However, again, he's a risk a team like the Nationals can afford taking. As for West, I think he's the better end of this deal from Washington's standpoint. West, 23, has already shown flashes of brilliance at the major league level. After coming straight up from single A, he tossed three quality starts in ten outings, one of which was an eight inning shutout. A heavy groundball pitcher, West projects as a solid three spot starter. On the Marlins side, they would be reunited with the Hammer, a fan favorite, who is having an incredible year, OPSing .996 in one of the major league's worst lineups. He would allow the Marlins to push a struggling Jeremy Hermida to the bench. However, as with Johnson, Willingham is a health concern. He has been having back problems since his first Marlins tenure and may not be worth the risk of both young arms, a department in which Florida is already thin. If Washington would settle for their choice of West or Miller plus their choice of Tucker or Thompson, then I'd say pull the trigger.
2:38 PM - John Heyman reports on MLB Network that Nick Johnson is likely headed to Florida.
2:21 PM - Juan Rodriguez reports that the asking price for Heath Bell was both Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. Excuse me while I say... hahahahaha!
2:07 PM - MLBTR says the Padres' asking price on Adrian Gonzalez is "astronomical". This puts a real downer on the possible acquisition of Heath Bell as he will likely be too rich for the Marlins' blood as well. "So far, pretty quiet" says an MLB Network source. With Leo Nunez closing well, it won't be the end of the world if the Fish don't acquire Bell, who is going to clean up in arbi next year.
12:46 PM - Peter Gammons of ESPN says he expects Johnson to be traded to the Marlins. His Wikipedia page has already been edited and now includes Marlins' teal and black. Lookin' good.
12:10 PM - Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Marlins have added another prospect to sweeten the Nick Johnson deal. My guess is this is a positional throw in to a pitcher heavy deal, perhaps a guy like Scott Cousins.