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What Nick Johnson Means

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Before the whole Milton Bradley trade went down, the trending topic of the LL universe was us losing out on Nick Johnson. He seemed like such a good fit and was inking such a reasonable deal with New York that understandably some people were confused why Zduriencik didn't simply top the Yankees' offer.

One of the great things about rooting for a team helmed by Jack Zduriencik is the level of trust that we can place in him partly because we share similar thought processes and talent evaluations. The Mariners were interested in Johnson for the same reasons that we were. Just as with the Rich Harden signing, when the Mariners have an identifiable hole and a player they are interested in who would fill said hole signs somewhere else for a reasonable amount, it's a pretty safe bet now a days that the reason Zduriencik didn't reach for that player is because he has other options at his disposal.

Milton Bradley is not really a fall back option from Nick Johnson though. Hopefully, Bradley's role is as the primary DH and getting occasional starts in left field. That still leaves us with a hole at first base currently occupied by Jack Hannahan or possibly Mike Carp. What's the options for this hole?

There's trades. The Brandon Morrow for Mat Gamel type of deal that, while maybe not being the exact deal, illustrates the type of deal that could be made. Essentially Zduriencik would be swapping the hole at first base for a hole in the rotation. For which there are still numerous free agent solutions (Randy Johnson being my favorite) still abound. There's Luke Scott in Baltimore or maybe Ryan Doumit in Pittsburgh and yes, the door has to be open on Adrian Gonzalez simply because who knows what Zduriencik is capable of.

There's also free agents, a simpler fix. Namely, there's still Russell Branyan. We know the two parties are comfortable with each other and earlier in the offseason it seemed incredibly likely that Branyan would return for 2010. He wanted two guaranteed years, the Mariners weren't budging on one and Zduriencik was content to wait things out. Nick Johnson may have been why. Not only as an alternative to Branyan but look at what just happened. Johnson just signed for one guaranteed year at $5.5 million.

Branyan had the better year last season, but it was close and Johnson is certainly the better bet as a hitter based both on his past performances and his age, 31 compared to Branyan's 34. It's going to near impossible for Branyan's camp to defend him getting two guaranteed years in light of Nick Johnson getting only one and furthermore, it would be difficult to justify Branyan being worth significantly more in guaranteed salary.

Johnson has been the more historically injury prone player, but a few of those injuries were freak accidents and none are as recent as Branyan's troubling back issue that ended his 2009 season. It's hard to see Branyan netting more than a one year deal in the $4 million guaranteed range with some incentives based on playing time and possibly an option thrown in. With about $10 million left to spend and 1B being the biggest hole left, that should bring Branyan right back into Seattle's wheelhouse.

I am not writing this based off any inside information, but it would surprise me not at all to see Branyan signed with Seattle before the clock strikes 2010. And if not, if Zduriencik, with Bradley aboard, decides to pass on Branyan's health risks, it's probably because he has someone even better in his sights.