The Tampa Bay Rays have reportedly reached an agreement with free agent second baseman Kelly Johnson on a one-year contract, Ken Rosenthal reports. Johnson spent a season and change with the Toronto Blue Jays, hitting .225/.313/.365 with 16 home runs in 2012. The move will presumably set up the Rays to use Ben Zobrist as their everyday right fielder while they await the arrival of Wil Myers. Rosenthal, citing a “source” on Twitter, indicates that Zobrist will still play some second base, noting that Johnson will “bounce around”.
It was just two seasons ago when Kelly Johnson was a near six-win (5.8 fWAR) player with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson hit .284/.370/.496 with 26 home runs, all the while managing a .310 batting average versus left handed pitching. Then 2011 happened and Johnson’s ability to hit lefties all but vanished, so too did his ability to hit righties. Thus, the left-handed hitting second baseman found himself packing for Toronto in exchange for Aaron Hill and John McDonald. Johnson faired well in 33 games with the Blue Jays to close out the season, then, in 2012 he was unmitigated disaster as the everyday second baseman.
It’s probable that Johnson will be asked to play left field on occasion, if Rosenthal’s report of “bouncing around” holds true. This is a hitter who struck out in 27.4% of his plate appearances last season, though, so it’s not like finding room for his bat in the lineup is a priority.
Johnson fared well versus left-handed pitching from 2008 through 2010, but he came hurtling back to earth at breakneck speed as his plate appearances piled up. The 31-year old hit .202 versus lefties last season in 158 plate appearances. At this point, he’s a platoon player, albeit not much of one. This is the Rays we’re talking about, so they’re probably well aware of that. They’re also probably well aware of some sort of fix-all for Kelly Johnson that involves him wearing his pants two sizes too small, and that will make him more like 2010 Kelly Johnson than the one Blue Jays fans are familiar with.
Note: This is the Kelly Johnson Blue Jays fans are familiar with…
Now let’s count the crop of infielders the Rays have stockpiled in advance of the 2013 season: Reid Brignac, Yunel Escobar, Elliot Johnson, Kelly Johnson, Hak-Ju Lee, James Loney, Evan Longoria, Ryan Roberts, Sean Rodriguez, and sometimes Ben Zobrist.