The news today is that Nick Johnson is getting surgery on his wrist and may be out for the rest of the season, it may bring the end of yet another disappointing season for him. His numbers weren’t spectacular this year, his batting average looked bad at .220. But he was slugging .431 which is just barely ok, (but not for a 1B) and his on base percentage was a remarkable .415. This has been the team’s best by .044 at the moment, a significant amount. It’s clear that part of the reason the Nats are so abysmal at scoring runs is his injury. Dmitri is good but hasn’t put up the kind of numbers Nick was putting up, despite the lack of a batting average.

So what’s next for Nick? Well, thus far in his career he’s had 3 healthy seasons since he started as a full time-type player in 2002. That’s 3 out of 7. Including his complete missing of 2007, and assuming he’s done for 2008, he’s averaged 88 games per year and only 352 PAs, just over a half of a season. He is probably the single most injury prone position player I can think of – only Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Rich Harden come to mind as more (or the same level) of an injury risk, and they are all pitchers. What’s sad is that while some of it is wear and tear on a fragile body, some of it has just been freaky stuff – like that collision with Kearns.

The Nationals have one more year of him in terms of a contract, at an easy to deal with $5.5 million. Despite his abilities, and they are very good, I doubt he’ll be resigned, and I don’t blame them for not doing it. His power numbers are good but not great, and he’ll be 31 when he needs to be signed again. So those numbers probably aren’t able to go up anymore. They can’t even count on him for next season, who knows how long it will be before he breaks down again. The best they can hope is that he starts out strong in 2009 and looks healthy enough to get some value in the trade market. It is disappointing for me to see this because of how good of a player he could be, and disappointing for the Nats because if he was healthy this whole time, he’d have been a real bargain at his price. I hope he gets healthy soon, puts all of these injuries behind him, and plays some full, healthy seasons, wherever they may be.

Other missing pieces

The offense has struggled mightily, and the numbers look as bad as last year. Considering the change of ballparks, they may even be worse. Besides missing Nick, Zimmerman and Kearns have been gone a long time now, and even when they were around, they weren’t doing great. Zimmerman’s .257 AVG and 8 HRs hides some poor numbers. His OBP of .291 isn’t replacement level, and his SLG of .427 is just ok despite all those HRs. His shoulder is still a problem, and could mean another few weeks – or the rest of the season. But without the ability to take a walk, he needs to hit over .300 to be a really valuable hitter (he’s always valuable on the field). AVG comes and goes depending on luck and some other factors, but he has shown an ability to draw walks in the past. Maybe his injury made him press, who knows.

Kearns, on the other hand, is alot closer to returning. He might be back by the All Star break, or right after it. The question I have with him, is what is he going to bring to the plate? At this point, Dukes is a much better hitter than him, and Austin hasn’t really hit since last year (his September was quite good, despite low season numbers). I’m not even gonna get into just how bad .197/.295/.267 is from anyone, let alone your RFer, which is where Kearns is at right now. Meanwhile, Dukes started out 1 for 26, and got his second hit of the season in his 12th game. From that game, he’s hitting .308/.409/.449, basically as a full time player. The missing Kearns’ bat is part of the reason this team has hit so poorly, but with Dukes playing as well as he is, Acta needs to keep him out there. Meanwhile, the return of Kearns does not necessarily equate to the return of Kearns’ bat.

What’s interesting is how this team would have fared if they were healthy all year. Guzman, Dukes, a healthy Zimmerman, Johnson and a decent Kearns may not have been #1 in runs scored, but they probably would be #30 either.

By Charlie