The Tampa Bay Rays have made a living off bargain bin diving for years, and continue to do so this off-season, this time hoping that one AL East rival’s unwanted piece will get them back to the playoffs in 2013:
Kelly Johnson, of course, was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays last season, and will be reunited with Yunel Escobar, who the team moved in the blockbuster deal with the Miami Marlins this season. The dollar details of Johnson’s contract is not confirmed, but that it’s a one-year deal suggests that it’s a make-good contract for the second baseman, as Johnson was looking for a multi-year contract going into the off-season.
A major part of that had to do with the fact that a change of scenery from the Arizona Diamondbacks (who received second baseman Aaron Hill in the same deal) to Toronto did not result in the positive change for what is now the most alarming element of Johnson’s game – strikeouts.
Once a reasonably patient hitter, Johnson’s time in swing-happy Arizona resulted in career-highs in homers in 2010 with 26; but, it also spiked his strikeout rate to 22.1%. That number only continued to climb the next season, and the Blue Jays acquired him in hopes of being able to reverse the trend.
Unfortunately, they did not. Johnson struck out at a career-high 27.4% rate, reaching a dubious team record of most strikeouts in a season with 159, something that he shares with Jose Canseco.
That, along with a penchant to pound the ball into the ground (1.34 GB/FB ratio, highest since 2005), all contributed to a disappointing .678 OPS season when all was said and done. It was something of an unexpected result, considering Johnson had came out of the gate on fire, and had been the subject of contract extension talks in the media as late as May of last season, when his OPS had hovered above .800.
He wanted a multi-year deal then. Instead, a collapse in the months after will mean that Johnson will go to his third team in as many years in hopes of making good in his age-31 season to land that payday. Johnson hasn’t played a game in the outfield since 2005, but had been prepping to do so in 2012, and his arrival in Tampa Bay will give the Rays another utility man-type player who can spend time at second and in the outfield, a role that he will share with the team’s super-utility man Ben Zobrist.
Just two years removed from being one of the premiere second baseman in the game, the Rays are hoping Johnson can get back there next seasons, and hopefully do something about the strikeouts in the process.