Saturday, August 4, 2012

Extension Candidate: Reed Johnson

Fans often get lost in discussions about the future daydreaming about the stars they'd trade for or sign to plug into their team's lineup on an every day basis. While those discussions typically provide unlimited interest, the questions many GMs like Frank Wren have to answer that are often just as important are ones that involve their organization's roster spots beyond the main contributors. The players that fill-in regularly, pinch hit, and provide value in other ways many times separate contenders from pretenders. Players that allow a Manager to rest his regulars as often as needed without substantial dropoffs in production are invaluable because they help keep those stars healthy and productive over the course of the brutal grind that is the 162 game MLB regular season.

One such player is one of the newest Braves - Reed Johnson. Johnson is a player that Wren himself said the organization had been after for awhile before landing him (along with Paul Maholm) from the Cubs. Johnson provides value in spades for a contending club. He's another in the mold of a player like Martin Prado whose ultimate worth far exceeds any of his singular talents or tools.

Yes, Johnson can hit - he was in the middle of a great season in Chicago with a .302/.355/.444 triple slash line. Before anyone screams "sample size", it's worth noting that that line isn't exactly a significant departure from his career .282/.344/.414 line covering 3,535 PAs over a ten year span. He's not a "power guy" (62 career HRs) or a "speed guy" (41 SB/27 CS), but that > .400 OPS reflects the fact that he's not strictly a slap hitter and that he's capable of taking extra bases when the opportunity presents itself.  He kills LHP - .312/.369/.468 in 1,338 career PAs - which is the only reason Matt Diaz currently held a roster spot prior to going on the DL.

Johnson's true value however lies in the flexibility he provides to go along with the fact that he has a productive bat. The owner of a career .990 Fielding %, that number doesn't seem to fluctuate at all based on where he plays - .987 in RF, .991 in LF, and most importantly .991 in CF. While he's not Michael Bourn or Jason Heyward when covering gaps, he's definitely no Eric Hinske or Matt Diaz either.

As Wren mentioned, he's just the perfect fit for a contending club - a player who provides value with his bat, his glove, and the flexibility he offers with the rest of the roster. He plays multiple positions, and plays them well, offering Fredi Gonzalez the opportunity to give everyone a breather when needed. Combined with Prado, he really gives Fredi tons of options when filling out the lineup card.

Johnson's current contract paid him $1.15 million for 2012. He's shown no obvious signs of decline or reason to be overly concerned with his health, as this year should be his third consecutive season of having appeared in over 100 games. A 2 year offer in the $3 million range would be a great offer for Wren to present him with - Johnson would receive the sense of stability and "belonging" many veterans look for in their final years, and he'd provide the organization with much more flexibility than re-signing a Diaz or Hinske ever could.     


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