There is no denying that Nick Johnson is a quality major league hitter; when he's healthy, which isn't all that often. But if Johnson ever had motivation, it would be now and perhaps the Angels could take advantage of his situation by putting in a call to the Washington Nationals to see what the price of acquiring Johnson might be. Johnson is coming off of another injury filled season, having had just 109 at-bats before missing the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his wrist. The year before that, Johnson missed the entire season with a fractured fibula that required numerous surgeries to fix. Johnson is financially fortunate in that he had signed a long-term deal that guaranteed him $16.5 million, but that deal ends after the 2009 season, leaving him to fend for himself.
The Angels lineup could use a big, left-handed bat to put into the mix and Johnson would provide just that. He could get at-bats either as a first baseman, or perhaps more interestingly, as a DH. Playing as a designated hitter would help to keep him out of harm's way, while giving the Angels another true power threat in their lineup. And on days when he's not in the lineup, Johnson's presence to come off the bench would be an added plus to Mike Scioscia's arsenal of weapons late in a ball game.
For their part, the Nationals have been known to be shopping Johnson, with everybody telling them that they might be interested if they were given time to develop interest after seeing how Johnson responded in camp this spring. Unfortunately for the Nationals, Johnson has responded with a .154 batting average, but does have two home runs to his credit. His spring numbers aren't indicative of what he can do at the plate and have possibly lowered the Nationals asking price even more. It's likely that the Angels could get Washington to not only take little in exchange for Johnson, but could likely get them to assume much of his guaranteed $5.5 million for the 2009 season, meaning that the Angels payroll wouldn't have to take a hit.
The Nationals can afford to dump Johnson, given that they've added Adam Dunn to their lineup to provide some power, but ideally, a healthy Johnson could team with Dunn to provide a strong one-two punch in the middle of the Naitonals lineup. Odds are though that if the Nationals received a decent offer for Johnson, they would consider making a move, which would allow them to put Dunn at first base and keep their new defensively challenged superstar from having to play in the outfield, where there is already a sizeable logjam.
The Oakland A's are the only other team known to have shown some interest in Johnson, so it's not like there is going to be a bidding war for his services, considering that Oakland had now told the Nationals that they're not interested in acquiring Johnson.
The only other option for the Nationals would be to hang on to Johnson and hope that his bat comes around and the injury bug that seems to bite him every season, stays away. In that case, his trade value would rise and in a perfect world, the Nats would be able to demand a much higher price for him later in the season than they can right now. It's a gamble that the Nationals have to consider, but considering their willingness to talk about sending Johnson elsewhere, it appears they are prepared to sell low and not wait for the market on oft-injured first basemen/DH types to go up.
For their part, the Angels could consider a couple of alternatives in approaching the Nationals with a deal. One would be to take on Johnson's contract and have to give up very little in terms of a player in exchange for Johnson. Or, they could pony up a better prospect, but have to swallow less of Johnson's contract.
It's likely that Washington would want either a pitching prospect or middle infield prospect to add to their organization. The Angels have some infield depth to deal from and also might be able to find a suitable pitching prospect to send to the Nats in exchange for Johnson. Keep in mind that the players that would head east wouldn't be top prospects, they would be more of the mid-level type prospect, who has some upside, but is in no way a blue-chip caliber prospect.
It needs to be noted that there are no known discussions between the two teams. This is simply one of those situations that might be a fit for both sides, if all plays out well. After all, if the Angels could feel pretty certain that Johnson was fully recovered from the wrist injury - and the Nationals insist that he is - adding a big, powerful left-handed bat to the roster wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for this club.