Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Johnson-Vazquez Deal Looking Like a Dud

It must have been around this time last year that a Yankee fan I know predicted that the trade bringing Javy Vazquez to the Bronx for Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera would go down as one of the best trades in Yankee history. This was back when Vazquez was pitching lights-out for the Junkees and Johnson was still trying to stay healthy for more than three weeks at a time.

But like many Cashman trades, which look good at the time they're made, has turned out to be a big mistake. The only thing Vazquez brought the Junkees was a rapidly-aging Randy Johnson (which also cost them Brad Halsey), while Vazquez has finally returned to old form down in Arizona. (Apparently, Mel Stottelmyre couldn't fix whatever mechanical flaws he's cleared up with the D-Backs. If I'm a Junkee fan, I'm hoping Mel is canned by George very soon.) And while the Yankees suffer from a Tino-Giambaby black hole at first base, Nick Johnson is looking the healthy OBP machine (fingers crossed) he was supposed to be long ago. I wonder what that Yankee fan is thinking now.

Speaking of Johnson, today's New York Post had a story about him by Brian Costello. Here 'tis:

WASHINGTON - There are several noticeable differences in Nick Johnson now that he's playing in Washington rather than the Bronx.
For one, he now sports a beard - a big no-no in the land of George Steinbrenner. His stature in the clubhouse also is much different. Instead of being a bit player in the Yankees parade of stars, he is one of the marquee names on the Nationals. But the biggest difference is the amount of time he spends in the trainer's room.
For the first time in his career, Johnson, 26, has remained healthy through the first two months of the season, and the clean bill of health is paying dividends. Johnson leads the team with a .338 average, he's reached base safely in 55 of 57 games and ranked second in the NL in batting with runners in scoring position (.435) through Monday.
Oh yeah, he also had the Nationals in first place in the NL East.
In last night's 2-1 Washington victory over Oakland, Johnson accounted for both runs with a two-run homer.
"He's having the type of season I think the people in New York thought he could have," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.
For years, the Yankees touted Johnson as their star of the future. Blessed with a keen hitting eye, sweet swing and good glove, Johnson appeared primed to take his place in the infield as a prospect in the late 1990s. Injuries always seemed to get in the way, though. He missed the entire 2000 season and good chunks of the '02 and '03 seasons.
The Yankees dealt him after the '03 season to Montreal in the Javier Vazquez trade. After a year of adjusting to his new team, Johnson is having the type of season many anticipated. On Monday, he was named NL co-player of the week after hitting .545 with four doubles, one triple, five RBIs and posting a .642 on-base percentage and an .818 slugging percentage. He also scored in each of the seven games last week.
"We all knew if he could get healthy he could have a breakout year and here it is," Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. "He's played gold glove defense at first base and he's become an impact hitter and one of the best left-handed hitters in this league."
While others are crowing, Johnson is taking his success in stride. Don't expect him to gloat over the Yankees' struggles. The Californian is less talkative than a mime in a monastery. "I was upset but that's part of the game," Johnson said of trade. "It happened. I was hoping I would come up through the organization and be able to stay there but that's part of it. Life goes on."
Johnson is careful not to say anything critical of his former team, saying he believes they'll snap out of their funk.
"It's not like them," he said. "They've got a great team over there. They have great players and they still can play."
For now, though, Johnson is not worried about the Yankees. He's too busy trying to keep the Nationals on top of the standings.
"It's been a long time since I've been healthy," he said. "This is what I want to do - to be able to go out there everyday and have fun and play baseball."

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