Strange as it might seem, the Oakland Athletics -- the very same club that has built its reputation on jettisoning All-Stars for the better part of the decade -- are pretty clearly in go-for-it-now mode. That's the only way trading for Matt Holliday, signing Jason Giambi and making a serious play for Rafael Furcal makes sense.
It's also the only way they would ever consider trading a cost-controlled 23-year-old first baseman like Daric Barton for the perennially injured Nick Johnson, as Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post reports.
My gut reaction any time A's general manager Billy Beane does something that seems out of character is to wonder what he knows that the rest of us don't. But you know what? As great of an executive as Beane is, he's not perfect, and this potential deal (which, by the way, doesn't seem close to being consummated) doesn't seem to make a lot of sense for Oakland.
Johnson is a near-ideal first baseman for the A's -- he's one of the most patient hitters in baseball and a terrific defender -- but he comes with the enormous caveat emptor that he's constantly injured.
On top of the question marks surrounding Johnson, acquiring him would do nothing to clear up the logjam Oakland has at the first base and designated hitter spots. As of right now, Barton, Giambi and Jack Cust will be sharing those two spots in the lineup. Obviously, the same would be true if Barton was swapped out for Johnson, though the A's would at least be better defensively.
The Nationals, and by extension Barton, have much more to gain if this deal goes through. Barton was abysmal in 2008, his first full season in the majors, posting an ugly .226/.327/.348 (BA/OBP/SLG) line, but he was the 12th youngest hitter to play in the American League last year, and one of only five players in their age-22 season or younger to log more than 500 plate appearances. His underlying indicators (a solid line-drive percentage and a low batting average on balls in play) suggest he was the victim of poor luck as much as inexperience.
It might seem like the bloom is off the rose, but Barton still has a high ceiling. He just needs playing time to reach it -- something the wretched Nationals can offer plenty of.