Come Back, Kelly Johnson

Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Images

Here’s a question for you; what stands between Yunel Escobar and Adam Lind and has around 400 assists every season? Currently, no one …. because there is a giant gaping hole at second base on the Blue Jays roster.

When Toronto initially acquired Kelly Johnson back in late August, I think most assumed he was not only going to fill the immediate void left by trading Aaron Hill, but that Johnson would also be the Blue Jays second baseman for the foreseeable future.

I myself thought it would go down like this; the Blue Jays get to “test drive” KJ for a couple months, then offer him a 2-3 year deal with an option, and everyone walks away happy. The Blue Jays lock up another position, and Johnson gets a nice paycheque.


Fast forward to today and all Kelly Johnson has to do is decline Toronto’s arbitration offer and the Blue Jays will be back at square one for their second base conundrum.

I know a lot of it has to do with the Type A status and the compensatory pick due to free agency, but the Blue Jays need to ask themselves a serious question: are those picks worth letting Kelly Johnson go for?

With all the changes recently to the CBA, one can completely understand why Alex Anthopoulos would want to amass as many picks as he can before the new rules come into effect next year. But right now, I think a bonafide second baseman is much more important than a draft pick.

Judging by the amount of money guys like Clint Barmes and Jamey Carroll have fetched already this off-season, it’s a buyer’s market for middle infielders. Kelly Johnson will not have a problem finding a multi-year deal somewhere.

And what’s even more enticing is his modified Type A status means the team that signs him does not have to surrender a draft pick. All the more reason for a prospective buyer to target Kelly Johnson.

However, this scenario plays in favour of the Blue Jays as well. Although it would seem like a cardinal sin for AA to give up a draft pick to sign a Type A free agent, the Blue Jays don’t have to worry about that because they’d be signing their own player.

The power now lies in the hands of Kelly Johnson and his agent. They have until next Wednesday to either accept the Blue Jays arbitration offer and hopefully work out a multi-year contract, or Johnson becomes a free agent and goes elsewhere.

Although the Blue Jays would undoubtedly have to overpay to keep Kelly, I’d much rather see them shell out the dough to keep Kelly Johnson around. I’m guessing he’d command around $8 million per season, but I feel like that money would be well spent.

Sure, Mike McCoy or Luis Valbuena could fill the void at second base. Virtually anybody could come in and fill those shoes. But neither McCoy nor Valbuena can hit for power or get in base like Johnson can, and that’s why he’s going to come at a premium.


I’m not saying spend money for the sake of spending money on this one, but at some point the front office is going to have to pony up on certain contracts and pay above market value to lock up certain positions for more than one season.

Even though their collapse was the centre of much attention, I look to the ever-dangerous Boston Red Sox lineup as an example of a great batting order. There are virtually no breaks through the 1-6 hitters in their lineup, meaning nowhere to hide for opposing pitchers.

I think in order for Toronto to get to Boston’s level, they really need to mimic how the Red Sox have solid hitters in the top two-thirds of their order. The Blue Jays lineup hasn’t quite reached that upper echelon, but they’re getting there. Adding Kelly Johnson to the mix would certainly help balance out the lineup.

The tough task for Anthopoulos and company now is they have to make Kelly Johnson an offer he can’t refuse if they want him to stay. That’s why I’m saying the Blue Jays will have to overpay because KJ can sign anywhere else at fair market value.

Perhaps the Blue Jays have some grandiose plan for second base; maybe it means Adeiny Hechavarria breaking camp, maybe it means giving Luis Valbuena a shot at the starting gig, or maybe the Silent Assassin trolls another team for their starting second baseman.

Whatever ends up happening, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to at least table a multi-year offer to Kelly Johnson. If he accepts, great … second base is taken care of for the next little while. If not, then Toronto takes the pick and plugs the hole by some other means.


Personally, I would just feel a whole lot more comfortable having that position locked up rather than use the “throw stuff against a wall and see what sticks” strategy.

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

11 thoughts on “Come Back, Kelly Johnson

  • November 30, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    I think the reasoning for letting him go is although his bat is valuable his defense is below avg at best. With all the other bats in the offense, this position may be more valuable having a defensive stud, over a quality offensive player.

  • November 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Maybe I'm crazy, but I think the Jays should let Kelly go. He isn't worth overpaying. Aramis Ramirez on the other hand is worth overpaying for two years with a 3rd year option.

    I know the Jays have been working with Lawrie at 3rd and he is doing well, but he could always shift to fill the void at 2nd base where he started. Both Johnson and Aramis are gambles, but for different reasons. Johnson, is just not consistent, he did well while with us, but I've seen enough of him while in Atlanta to know he provides too little lineup depth to constitute 8 mil a year. Ramirez on the other hand has a decade of consistency…with a recent hiccup in 2010 and a bit of injury history too.

    With a shift to the AL, Ramirez could spend some time as DH (especially if Lind fails to produce) to avoid the daily grind of 3b that causes injuries. And he could have some offdays too while Lawrie keeps his 3b skills in practice and valbueno fills in at 2b. And Bautista would finally have the protection Lind can't seem to provide.

    The main problem is that Aramis is asking too much now, and he won't lower his price until he realizes he isnt getting 4 years at 15-16 a year, by then Kelly will be gone with the wind. If we can snag Ramirez for 2 years while we have money available, we will still have financial flexibility when our major contracts start expiring.

    Bottom line is: AA needs to work some magic because we need a stronger lineup to compete while we have a solid lineup locked up for a season or two. Fortunately, if anyone can do it AA can.

  • December 1, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Psmith, if not Johnson then I think the Blue Jays do need a defensive-minded second baseman up the middle. That tandem with Escobar at short would make for a great middle infield.

    Atlantan, my all means if the Blue Jays can get Ramirez for the right price, then they should go for it. The other problem that poses is he's 33 years old, and then Toronto would be in the exact same situation a few years from now. I just think the lineup is better off with Kelly Johnson than without. There really aren't any better free agent options out there, unless AA wants to swing a trade for a blue chip second baseman out there.

  • December 1, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    The reason I like the idea of a defensive minded second baseman, is in most of the other positions they have power hitters at there position. For instance

    Lind catches a lot of slack but, avg at first was .270 he hit .251, avg HR 11 he 26, avg rbi 43 he 87.

    Escobar, avg league .261 he .290
    HR league 6 he 11
    RBI, 31 league he 48

    Lawrie, avg 3rd .252 he .293 avg HR 6 he in a short season 9 rbi avg 27 he short season 25 SB avg 2 he 7 pretty good for a rookie short seasoned.

    avg league 245 he .219 hr league 4 he 23 leader catcher only hit 30, RBI 21 avg he 78 leader 103 pretty decent for a rookie

    That is just the middle of the diamond, not including players like Bautista, and Rasmus who had a bad showing last season but I expect a rebound. there main goal now then, should be getting a strong defender for the position.

    Personally I would like the jays to make a play for Orlando Hudson, however I think this does not happen, until if Johnson declines. HE had the 3rd best range factor in 2011, behind Mark Ellis and Cano. I even think for his defense his 8 million player option with injuries and age is worth it is the question are the jays interested, he liked it in T.O. and was a fan favourite. He is my pic for who the jays should go for at second base, throw a decent prospect and the padres might be happy with jays eating his salary.

  • December 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Psmith, those are some good comparables. This might be an offseason project, but I might look into how the starting lineup compares to the rest of the AL East – no doubt the averages within the division will be much higher than across the entire AL.

    It would be nice to have O-Dogg back, but again it's just a temporary solution for maybe 2 years max. Hopefully by that point Adeiny would be ready to make the jump to full-time second baseman.

  • December 2, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    I'm fine with some warm body (hello, Luis Valbuena!) auditioning for the starting 2B spot at the year while seeing how some of the other question marks in 2012 (LF, Rasmus, Lind, starting pitching) resolve themselves. If, however improbably, 2012 resembles a playoff year near the trade deadline, I have faith that AA will be able to shake loose an upgrade from somewhere.

    Lower-tier Type A free agents like Johnson tended not to move in free agency because teams were reluctant to give up a single compensation pick. How does it make sense for the Jays to effectively give up two in order to re-sign him?

  • December 3, 2011 at 3:04 am

    Psmith – I find some of your numbers hard to believe, especially in regards to firstbase averages. How can the "average 1b" have hit only 11 HR? Where is that coming from? Are you considering all players who played 1b (even if fewer than 10 games) because you have to set a "minimum games played" standard otherwise it drags down the mean values.

    Without crunching the numbers, here's where Lind ranked amongst 2011 MLB firstbasemen who qualified for the batting title:
    avg: 16th of 19
    obp: 18th of 19
    slg: 14th
    hr: 12th
    runs: 17th (tied)

    And his WAR = 0.7 (base-ref) or 0.5 (fangraphs)

    Not good at all by any measure of a firstbasemen.

  • December 3, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Yahoo sports Adam Lind page one problem there mate 30 starters and u rank him out of 19 players there is atleast 11 outliers not included in your stats

  • December 4, 2011 at 2:13 am

    The free agency market at 2B is slim at best. Every one of those guys will be over paid, there are no studs available. That being said, AA is in love with trades and not so much free agency. I wouldn't be surprised if a move is made over the next few days at the winter meetings.

    Maybe a package deal with the A's for Andrew Bailey and Scott Sizemore.

  • December 7, 2011 at 5:39 am

    Psmith – Not to be pedantic, but with spring training months off I do enjoy a friendly bit of back-and-forth. So, here we go…Even though you've said where you got your numbers(Yahoo), I remain unsure HOW you got your numbers. As I pointed out, the rankings I posted are for all 1b who had enough appearances to qualify for the batting title (currently 502PA). There were only 19 who did.

    Saying I've made an error by not including 11 firstbasemen immediately shows a blemish in your thinking. There ARE 30 teams in MLB but to imagine that each of those teams had exactly one player for all 162 games at 1b is flawed. It looks to me as if your numbers include any player who was at firstbase whether for 15 games or 150. You can imagine how such an inclusion would skew the numbers to lower values, right?

    Imagine you have 20 players who play at least 100 games at 1b (as Lind did) and calculate their average OPS. Let's say it rounds out to .780 OPS. Adam Lind's .734 OPS is far below the average.

    But if you choose to include another 20 players who played between 5-50 games at 1b the numbers change significantly. Now with 40 players in total, the latter group is bound to pull down the OPS average because they are undoubtedly weaker players (othewise they'd play more games).

    Let's say those additional players drag the entire group to a .700 OPS. Suddenly, Adam Lind's .734 OPS looks a lot stronger but that's because you've included part-timers who played less than half the season at 1b.

    Do you see what I'm getting at? When making caluculations you can't include everyone who played even a handful games at 1b and then suggest Lind wasn't a bad player. If you stick to BA qualifiers (currently 502PA) then Lind was not an upper-class 1b in 2011. He wasn't even average. Heck, except for HR, he was among the worst.

    PS – Don't trust Yahoo sports for stats. I see they've listed DHs such as David Ortiz, thirdbasemen like Mark Reynolds, and even Lance Berkman (21 games at 1b, 126 games in OF).

  • December 8, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Jeff, it the Blue Jays were the team on the outside looking in, there was no way they would surrender the pick to sign him. So good thing that signing your own player means things stay the same.

    Psmith and Peckinpah, I love the discussion going on here. I find FanGraphs Leaders Page is a little more accurate. If we go by that, here's how Lind looked compared to the rest of the AL (minimum 500 PA's):

    9th of 12 in AVG
    11th of 12 in OBP
    10th of 12 in SLG
    8th of 12 in HR
    11th of 12 in runs
    10th of 12 in WAR.

    No matter how you slice it, Lind just did not stack up compared to other first baseman in the league. Here's hoping he's a candidate for a bounce-back season in 2012.

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