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.