Re-Signing Kelly Johnson Makes Sense Now

The trade between Miami and Toronto yesterday is a defining moment.  It will define Rogers as an owner.  It will define Alex Anthopoulos as a manager.  It is consistent with how Jeffrey Loria was already defined.  It has also defined those of us who write about the Jays.  Very little of what I wrote or speculated about is relevant anymore, even though it was fun.  The trade has now defined how I perceive the Toronto Blue Jays and their remaining needs because, despite the influx of high-quality players, Toronto still has some needs.

Kelly Johnson can meet one of those needs.  Some of you may be snickering already and asking yourself,  “after the season he just had, are you nuts?”  You’re right to ask, so I’ll try to explain myself.

KJ had a bad year at the plate and a bad year in the field.  He’s 31 years old and, like the rest of us, he’s not getting any younger.  He’s not very athletic, but he’s not very ‘steady’ either.  ‘Mercurial’ may describe him best.  Across the board, KJ’s defense suffered.  His RngR and UZR were the worst of his career, and his DPR was poor too.  His UZR/150 was the worst mark of his career by a country mile.  Offensively, the story was similar.  His numbers with ARI are among the best of his career.  Conversely, his numbers last season are among the worst of his career.  2009 is the only season when he was as poor offensively as he was in 2012, but he missed 56 games that year.  He’s also inconsistent: great one year with the glove, but average offensively; great with the stick the next year, but subpar with the glove.  And so it goes throughout his career.

I’m not making much of a case, am I?  But here are three reasons why I believe that signing him would be a good move.  First, there aren’t many quality middle infielders available.  He may be the best of the bunch, and we saw him play. Perhaps someone like Skip Schumaker could be acquired in a trade, but we’ll chase that rabbit another day.

Second, his 2012 numbers were so far below his career marks that he’s a strong candidate for a pay cut.  I’m not sure how concerned the Jays are about payroll commitments right now, but perhaps Kelly could be signed to an incentive-laden one-year deal for $4.5MM plus an option.  It’s reasonable, based on his performance.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, his 2012 numbers were so far below his career marks that he’s a strong candidate to bounce back.  The addition of Jose Reyes and a LF/1B means he won’t be expected to offer more than he’s capable of contributing.  2007 and 2010 were the best years of his career, and in both cases there were four other players who carried a greater load offensively.

Re-signing Kelly Johnson makes a lot more sense after the trade than it did before the trade.  The bench would be strong, with new acquisitions/recent signings Rajai Davis, Maicer Izturis, and Emilio Bonifacio.  The problem is that with so few IF available, he may get an unreasonable offer elsewhere.  If TOR acts quickly and Kelly Johnson plays to his capabilities in 2013, the Blue Jays line-up would be very potent indeed.

Wes Kepstro


15 Responses to “Re-Signing Kelly Johnson Makes Sense Now”

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  4. 4 GordieDougie November 14, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonafacio are both much, much, much better options at 2nd base, for much cheaper than 4.5M+.

    • 5 Wes Kepstro November 14, 2012 at 11:47 pm

      I’m of two minds having MI/EB fill the position. On the one hand, neither has been a full-time player for much more than a season during their careers. They have well-earned reps as super utility guys. On the other hand, the Jays have both of them. Surely they can fill the position.

      Kelly Johnson’s value is obvious but so are his shortcomings, so let’s look at it from a different angle. Set over against Izturis and/or Bonifacio: he’s been a regular 2B since ’05, has good pop, and will get on base more frequently. Izturis and Bonifacio are much more athletic, have greater range, and offer a different type of offense (more like ‘small ball’).

      The trio of KJ, Izturis, and Bonifacio makes the Jays multi-faceted to a degree that they’ve never been, and I wind up where I started because depth is key. Izturis/Bonifacio make $5.5MM combined. What’s another $4.5MM, if it offers the Jays much greater depth?

      • 6 GordieDougie November 15, 2012 at 12:19 am

        Is pop really a necessary quality in a 2nd baseman?

        I don’t particularly think so. We need guys who will get on base, we have guys who can hit homers. Izturis has gotten base better than Johnson in 2012, 2011, and 2009. Bill James’ projection has him OBPing better than KJ, as well. Kelly’s also coming off what appears to be a very concerning hamstring injury.

        Maicer Izturis has had a better Base Running Value (as per Fangraphs) every year of their careers.

        Johnson’s -6 Defensive Runs Saved through 7 years is sad next to Izturis’ 23 through 9 years.

        Bonafacio’s OBP has consistently been around or better than Johnson’s throughout his career.

        While Bonafacio’s D at 2nd has been consistently worse than Johnson’s, Boni’s Base Running value destroys KJ’s hilariously, by about 21 points, and Johnson’s even had a year longer in the MLB.

        The question is really, what do we need from our 2nd baseman? We have guys who have shown they can hit homers- Bautista, Encarnacion, Rasmus, Arencibia, Lind, etc. We need more table-setters, though, and the excellent speed from Boni doesn’t hurt either. KJ’s better OBP in 2010 and his pop that isn’t really needed shouldn’t give him the job over two candidates that seem to fit very well.

        Especially not after last year.

      • 7 Wes Kepstro November 15, 2012 at 9:06 am

        Great comment.

        Tell me what you think about these issues. Izturis and Bonifacio have combined to play 2552+ IN at 2B over against KJ’s 6682 IN. Bonifacio’s a weak IF: most of his defensive metrics are negative at the IF positions (his DPR is slightly above average at 2B/SS). Over the last 3 seasons, KJ’s DRS is 6, while Izturis and Bonifacio are both -2.

        You’re right, pop isn’t crucial for a middle infielder but in KJ’s case, it helps me stomach his K-rate. Izturis has a terrific K-rate but Bonifacio strikes out like a guy who should hit 20 HR. Bonifacio’s wheels are his biggest asset, and with 30 SB in 64 G last season, I love him coming off the bench as an OF where he had 8 A in 144 games in the last 3 years.

        James’s projection of 153 GP is unrealistic: he’s only played more than 130 G once. Izturis’s projection is more realistic, and one thing that’s in his favour is moving from Angel Stadium to Rogers. I think it will be a boon to his offense, boosting his already-tantalizing numbers.

      • 8 GordieDougie November 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm

        Wes, I’m responding to this, because your site won’t let me respond to your latest comment.

        I honestly don’t think your issues top my benefits. Plus, that 4.5M could go towards other assets. And could you imagine the fans’ reaction to that? KJ’s sorta hated here by most.

      • 9 Wes Kepstro November 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm

        I appreciate the back-and-forth and, as usual, we’ll see what happens. Honestly, I’d say the possibility that the Jays re-sign KJ is slim. Pre-trade, it was a non-consideration; post-trade, it’s a consideration.

  5. 10 @ALEastbound November 14, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    I was actually excited when they brought in KJ at first. He had good plate skills and would draw a walk. His defense was always above average and he had some pop. He was even decent VS southpaws.

    The point here is there IS nobody else and DEPTH is something I want and after last season is clearly NEEDED.

    • 11 Wes Kepstro November 14, 2012 at 10:59 pm

      His offense exploded when he went to ARI. Now Hill’s has while KJ’s has dropped off considerably. That dry heat in the American SW makes me raise my eyebrows.

      I think he’s a better candidate than most for 2B in TOR. ‘Value’ is the key. He’s not as good as 2010, but he’s not as bad as 2012, either. The thought of him as a starter with Izturis and Bonifacio as super subs is tantalizing. I could be convinced that there’s a better option via the trade route, though…

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