Yanks finalize deal with Johnson to DH

Yanks finalize deal with Johnson

NEW YORK -- Six years and three weeks after trading Nick Johnson and two others to the Expos for Javier Vazquez, the Yankees officially reclaimed that deal's two major players.

On the heels of their trade to re-acquire Vazquez, the Yankees on Wednesday officially announced their signing of Johnson to a one-year deal. Johnson will serve as the team's primary designated hitter and should bat second in the lineup.

"I started my career here, and I'm just really happy to be back and put those stripes back on and to be with a great organization," said Johnson, who has spent the past six seasons with the Nationals and Marlins. "It's all about winning. That's something that I want to get back to doing."

The details of Johnson's one-year, $5.5 million agreement with the Yankees were first reported last week. Johnson can earn about $1 million more in performance bonuses, according to The Associated Press, and the deal includes a mutual option for 2011 worth at least $5.5 million.

Johnson, 31, a former third-round Draft pick of the Yankees who played three seasons in the Bronx, will replace Hideki Matsui as the team's regular designated hitter and Johnny Damon as its regular two-hole hitter. The left-handed Johnson batted .291 with eight home runs in 133 games with the Nationals and Marlins last season, and could see a power boost thanks to Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field.

Although the Yankees kicked around the idea of proceeding with a "revolving door" designated-hitter slot, which could have provided more regular rest for aging regulars such as Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, the team opted instead for a steady DH option in Johnson.

Johnson can also fill in for first baseman Mark Teixeira if needed. Although he could have remained a first baseman with another team, Johnson preferred to play out of position with the Yankees.

"It's something I thought long and hard about," he said. "But I decided to come here and be in the atmosphere of winning and be in this great lineup."

More than anything, Johnson's nine years in the Majors have been defined by his injuries. Never in nine seasons has he amassed more than 500 at-bats, and only twice has he had more than 400.

Johnson missed the entire 2007 season with a broken femur, then missed a large chunk of 2008 with a torn wrist ligament.

A move to designated hitter, though, should help him remain healthy -- such is the gamble Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is taking. Johnson has not played in the American League since leaving the team after the 2003 season.

"It's clear to dream about what he does and what he can provide if he stays healthy," Cashman said. "Certainly at the same time, I recognize and can't ignore the risk that comes with his trying to stay on the field and stay healthy. This was a decision that I was willing to make, recognizing that there's risk that comes with it because of his health history.

"Is there a risk in signing him? Sure there is."

It is simply a risk the Yankees are willing to take, in their attempt to become a more cost-efficient machine in 2009.

After reports about the Johnson signing arose last week, the Yankees seemed to have a set lineup for the 2009 season, with Johnson at designated hitter, Curtis Granderson in center field and Melky Cabrera in left. But the Yankees traded Cabrera on Tuesday for Vazquez, opening the door for them to make one final major move.

Most likely, the Yankees will pursue their own free-agent outfielder, Damon, whose return to the Bronx appeared unlikely at this time last week.

Cashman on Tuesday ruled out the possibility that the Yankees might still make a run at one of the top two free-agent outfielders available, Matt Holliday or Jason Bay.

But even with Johnson in place, the lineup appears incomplete, unless the Yankees have designs on starting reserve player Brett Gardner in left field.

So tweaks, and possibly even one last major signing, may lie ahead. But Wednesday was a day for Johnson, officially back in pinstripes once again.

"This is a great place to play," Johnson said. "That's what it comes down to -- winning. The last six years, I haven't been close to doing that, so that's a huge part for me."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.