Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays dealt Aaron Hill and John McDonald for Kelly Johnson in a waiver deal well after the July non-waiver trade deadline. With the recent call-up of shortstop prospect Adeiny Hechavarria, the Blue Jays could consider sending off current second baseman Kelly Johnson in a similar deal to the one that brought him to Toronto last year.
Johnson’s contract will expire at the end of the year and he has finished his arbitration years. Since Kelly Johnson is an impending free agent, the Blue Jays must offer him a one-year qualifying offer at the average salary of the top 125 paid players in baseball (approximately $12M), and have him sign elsewhere, in order to receive type-A compensation for the second-baseman. With the way that Johnson has played since his hot start – he has 53 strikeouts versus just 39 hits and 21 walks since the beginning of June – he would likely take that $12M for next season and work towards a more successful season in 2013.
If the Jays are indeed serious about giving Adeiny Hechavarria playing time, booking Kelly Johnson‘s ticket out of town would be the best way to ensure that a spot opens up. Given that the Jays have now given Hechavarria time at both third- and second-base, it is conceivable that they envision him as a significant contributor to the team in 2013. If nothing else, the struggles of Kelly Johnson and the lack of options on the free agent market make a legitimate case for Hechavarria as a key piece for the Blue Jays in 2013.
Barring a trade for a more appealing second-baseman, it is difficult to conceive of a better available option at second-base in 2013 than Johnson or Hechavarria. Of course, Yunel Escobar could move to second-base with Hechavarria moving to his natural position at shortstop, but that is not central to this discussion. Kelly Johnson has some power and a relatively solid track record, but the Blue Jays made a substantial investment in Hechavarria in 2010 – $10M over 4 years – and he plays outstanding defense, superior to that played by Johnson.
If the Blue Jays are confident in the resurgence of Yunel Escobar‘s bat, we may see Kelly Johnson dealt away in a waiver trade in the coming few weeks. This possibility becomes increasingly likely if the Blue Jays do not envision Johnson back with the club next year, as such a deal would negate the possibility of losing Johnson for nothing come season’s end. Of course, such a deal would mean that the Jays commit to the light-hitting Hechavarria for the coming year. This idea is likely dissatisfying to many, but if the Blue Jays can squeeze some value out of Kelly Johnson before he hits free agency, they might be inclined to act.
Charles Davis is a baseball writer for RantSports.com with a specific focus on the Toronto Blue Jays, their farm system, and prospects league-wide. Read his articles here and follow him on Twitter @CPDavis90.