Trading Barton makes sense, but not for Johnson
The Nationals and Oakland Athletics, who discussed a potential trade for first baseman Nick Johnson all the way back in November, have revived those talks in recent weeks, according to a source familiar with the discussions. At one point last week, the source said, a deal seemed very close.
It is unclear what players the A's would be willing to give up for Johnson, but the Nationals have shown previous interest in 23-year-old first baseman Daric Barton, and a deal centering upon Johnson and Barton would make sense for both sides.
The Nationals, who made a failed run at free agent Mark Teixeira this winter, are searching for a young first baseman with upside, and Barton, a former A's top prospect who is under club control until 2013, fits the bill.
The A's meanwhile, are in go-for-it mode after acquiring Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi this winter, and are looking for a more established player at first base. Johnson, 30, is a career .269/.396/.456 hitter and a superb defensive player, but injuries have limited him to fewer than 100 games in three of the past five seasons. The A's received Johnson's medical records back in November as part of those initial discussions; he is currently recovering from a torn ligament in his wrist, but has said he expects to be ready by spring training. Johnson is in the final year of a three-year, $16.5 million contract that will pay him $5.5 million this season.
Barton is exactly the sort of player the Nationals should be targeting. He's struggled in the majors, but he's still only 23 and I believe he will be a solid major leaguer within two years (and well before 2013). And with Giambi aboard, there's really nowhere in Oakland for Barton to play, as both are limited to first base (at best).
What I don't understand is the A's interest in Nick Johnson. Sure, Johnson's more talented than Barton, and will be for at least the next couple of years. But talent doesn't necessarily translate into value, and in Johnson's case we're talking about a guy who's managed to play in 100 games just twice in the past six seasons. Haven't the A's had enough adventures on the disabled list? And even if Johnson were healthy, that pushes Jack Cust to right field, for which he's particularly ill-suited.
Trading Barton might make sense in the short term. But what the A's really need in return is a real outfielder.