Nats ink Johnson to extension

Nationals ink Johnson to three-year extension

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals signed first baseman Nick Johnson to a three-year, $16.5 million extension on Saturday morning.

Johnson was scheduled to become a free agent after the 2006 season and will earn $3.2 million, plus incentives based on playing time, this year. The 27-year-old has spent time on the disabled list in each of the past six seasons during his professional baseball career, the last five of which have been in the Majors with the Yankees and Expos/Nats.

General manager Jim Bowden said that the team getting a new stadium lease deal and is also getting close to naming an owner had nothing to do with signing Johnson quickly. Bowden, however, received permission from team president Tony Tavares to get the deal done. The Nationals are owned by Major League Baseball.

"Until all those situations are resolved, we are doing the best we can for this franchise and making the best long-term decisions we can," Bowden said. "That's what we are trying to do. I called Tony Tavares and I told him we had the opportunity to do this deal. I gave him the reasons why. He approved it and we went forward."

Said Tavares, "It was a choice of trading Nick or signing him. We thought he was worth re-signing. He is one of the best first basemen around."

Johnson becomes the second player in the organization to sign an extension before Opening Day. Catcher Brian Schneider signed a four-year, $16 million deal on Jan. 17.

If Johnson is traded prior to the 2008 season, the last year of the deal becomes a player option.

The Nationals and Johnson's agent, Rex Gary, have been negotiating since last June, and it became serious once Johnson signed his one-year deal this offseason.

"Before we bring other people in, you have to care of your own people first, and these guys are winning players," Bowden said. "We want them to be represented in that clubhouse and in the community. We didn't want to lose Nick to free agency."

Johnson said he understands why his new deal is for an average of $5.5 million per season instead of the $10 million he could have possibly earned annually if he had stayed healthy during his career.

"It's not a secret that I've been injured six years in a row," Johnson said. "Even though some of them were freak injuries, they put me on the DL."

Last year was no different. Even though Johnson is coming off his best season, in which he hit .289 with 15 home runs and 74 RBIs in 131 games, he spent a month on the disabled list because of a right heel contusion.

Washington's next priority is to sign outfielder Jose Guillen and second baseman Alfonso Soriano, who are free agents after this season. Bowden said multiyear offers have been made to those players.

Guillen declined to comment on his contract situation, but a baseball source said that Guillen is not willing to take a discount like Johnson.

"I'm happy for Nick. He is a great player," Guillen said. "That means a lot to this organization. I see they really care about putting a good product on the field. Nick is one of the key players on the team."

Before they can even think about signing Soriano long term, the Nationals have to convince him that he belongs in the outfield. So far, Soriano has declined to make such a switch.

With Johnson signed long term, it also means that Larry Broadway may not get a chance to play with the Nationals. Broadway has been one of the organization's top prospects since being drafted in 2002. He missed most of last season because of a knee injury.

Bowden acknowledged that the Johnson's extension is a setback for Broadway, but the GM didn't rule out Broadway being a backup first baseman for the club, or promoted to the big leagues if Johnson were to go on the disabled list or being traded for pitching.

"Broadway needs a year in Triple-A anyway," Bowden said. "By next year, he could be ready. I also believe in depth. If Nick goes down, I want to have Broadway. I've been criticized for having too many infielders and too many outfielders. That's fine, because when I have an injury, I can still play and compete.

"I love Larry Broadway. He can help our organization. You don't always become a regular as soon as you want to in the big leagues. We made a commitment to Nick and we stand behind that commitment."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.