The meaning of Nick Johnson

The Giants didn't get Nick Johnson, and the Oakland Tribune's Gary Peterson knows why:

    Finally, we know this: The Giants are now reconsidering their options where prospective first basemen are concerned. From here they appear to be a) Adam LaRoche, who may want more money than they're comfortable spending, b) Mark DeRosa, a better fit at third base, which would mean moving Pablo Sandoval to first, c) convincing Matt Cain to play first base when he isn't pitching, and d) coaxing J.R. Phillips out of retirement.

    But this is less about the Giants' attempt to upgrade their lackluster lineup than it is baseball's economic stratification, which has never been more pronounced. Take Johnson, for example. Instead of becoming a prized piece of the Giants' would-be offensive makeover, he becomes an oh-by-the-way transaction during a quiet offseason by Steinbrenner standards.

    The price tag — $5.5 million for one year - is about what CC Sabathia earns for lacing his shoes before each game. But it's not just the money; it's what the money represents. Once Yankees GM Brian Cashman batted his eyes at Johnson, the Giants never had a chance.

    It's not that the Giants are destitute. Their opening day payroll last season was $82 million, which ranked 14th among 30 teams. The Yankees' payroll was $201 million. You'd need blasting caps and earth-movers to level that playing field — same as it ever was.

    -- snip --

    Weird, isn't it? The Pirates just set an MLB record with their 17th consecutive losing season. The Royals have finished an average of 21?1/2 games out of first place in the 24 years since their last playoff appearance. The Twins have replaced the A's as poster children for brains over purchasing power; since 2000 the two Little Franchises That Could have played a combined 12 playoff series, winning only two — one when the Twins beat the A's, and the other when the A's beat the Twins.

    That sound you hear: crickets chirping.

But it's not just the A's and the Twins, right? The Brewers were in the playoffs last year ago. The Rockies -- with a $75 million payroll -- were in the playoffs this year, and they were in the World Series just a couple of years ago.

This is just stale soup. We know it's easier to win with money. We also know that with a bit of luck and intelligence, you can win without a lot of money. The Giants, as Peterson notes, can afford a middle-of-the-road payroll. Further, if Nick Johnson's really what they need to get over the top, then overpaying by a million bucks shouldn't be all that hard to justify.

Not that I'm telling the Giants how to spend their money. But I'm not sure that first base should be one of their top priorities. At least Travis Ishikawa might be good enough, eventually (particularly if he's got a decent platoon partner). The last time I checked, the Giants don't have even one outfielder who's going to put up National League-average numbers. I know there aren't many outfielders available this winter. But there aren't many first basemen, either. I would rather have Johnny Damon than Adam LaRoche.