Nobody could have expected that Chris Johnson would play as well as he did for the Atlanta Braves last year. He was viewed by many as simply a throw-in when the Braves traded for Justin Upton before the 2013 season, but Johnson ended up second in the National League in hitting. With Johnson off to a slow start through the first month of the season, however, it seems like a strange time to be locking the third baseman down for the next three years.
While Johnson wasn’t expected to replace Chipper Jones‘ yearly production at the hot corner, he had already shown that he could be a decent hitter. Johnson carried a .276 career average through the 2012 season, picking up a home run every 37 at bats. Everything clicked for him in his first year with the Braves, and he finished with a .321 batting average.
Still, the Braves are taking a risk by signing Johnson now. He finished April hitting .231 with 25 strikeouts and only 4 walks. He should improve as the season goes on, but it remains to be seen if he’ll get back to the .276 form or the .321 form he showed last year. The Braves are betting on last season.
The signing stays consistent with the organization’s strategy of locking down their players before they hit free agency. The fact that Johnson was signed after his worst month with the team indicates that he signed a more team-friendly deal than he would have before the season. Had the team decided to wait until after the season to make an offer and Johnson finishes with another .300+ average, he would probably get more money on the open market.
If the gamble pays off, the Braves have locked down a solid hitting third baseman through the prime of his career. If they’re wrong, they will have another overpaid hitter in the lineup who will be difficult to move.