Nick Johnson began his major-league career as a designated hitter, blocked by the inferior defender Jason Giambi as the Yankees' starting first baseman. He eventually moved to the National League, where he became an everyday player with the Expos, Nationals and Marlins.
Now, Johnson is returning to his roots in more ways than one. By agreeing to return to the Yankees, he'll largely be DHing. At least this time, he'll be yielding to a superior defensive first baseman in Mark Teixeira.
"It's something I thought long and hard about," Johnson said Wednesday, in a conference call. "But I decided to come here and be in the atmosphere of winning, and be in this great lineup."
As Newsday first reported last week, Johnson agreed to return for a one-year, $5.5 million deal. There is $1 million attainable in incentives, and a mutual option for $5.5 million exists for the 2011 season.
The Yankees view Johnson as their new second hitter in the lineup. While he lacks Johnny Damon's speed, he posted a .426 on-base percentage in 2009 and has a career OBP of .402.
Johnson has been profoundly injury-prone in his career. In eight full big-league seasons, he has failed to play as much as 100 games in four; that includes the 2007 season, which he sat out in its entirety due to a fractured right femur he suffered at the end of the 2006 campaign. He also missed the entire 2000 season, while still in the minors, due to a right hand injury. "He doesn't have any existing pre-situation that you hope doesn't recur," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "He just has gotten hurt quite often. We gave him an extremely thorough physical. Is there risk in signing him? Sure, there is."
With his heavy lifting for the winter done, Cashman said, "Outfield depth is an area of concern. I'll stay engaged in the trade and free agent market. It won't be a big-name situation, I can promise you that."