New free agent option: Kelly Johnson

Open Thread: Giants vs. Eagles
Fan Confidence Poll: December 14th, 2009

If the 2010 season began today, Melky Cabrera would be the Yankees starting left fielder. From an offensive standpoint, that’s not ideal. While Melky improved in 2009 after below average 2007 and 2008 seasons, he was just a league average hitter. Of all American League outfielders with at least 500 plate appearances, Melky’s wOBA ranked above just four: Ryan Sweeney, Vernon Wells, B.J. Upton, and Alex Rios. His defense, average in center field, might add a few runs in left, but it’s doubtful that would bridge the gap. The Yankees need to remain focused on adding a left fielder.

Johnny Damon appears the team’s top target, but recent stories indicate that the two parties remain far apart. In fact, Damon says that the team hasn’t made an offer yet and he hasn’t made his desires known to them. That hasn’t stopped Scott Boras, of course, from making outrageous demands on behalf of his client. If the Yankees don’t offer at least three years at at least $13 million, he says, they shouldn’t even bother making one. That leaves the Yankees still searching for left fielders. While I think the two parties will reconcile soon enough, it’s always fun to explore other options.

We’ve been over most of the free agent options, but on Saturday night we got a new wave. Teams decided to not tender contracts to some of their arbitration-eligible players, making them free agents. Among the new crop is Kelly Johnson, former Braves second baseman and left fielder. One of the Braves weaknesses last year was their outfield, so it seems odd to consider one of their players who could have filled that slot. Still, teams do make mistakes. Perhaps Johnson could slide back to left and help the Yankees.

Any team that signs Johnson gambles that he’ll return to his 2007 form, when he hit .276/.375/.457 with 16 home runs. Those numbers would play well in left field for almost any team, but there’s no guarantee that Johnson reaches that mark. His numbers have declined for the past two years, his OBP dipping to .349 in 2008 and then .303 in 2009. In 2009 this was due to a sharply declining walk rate. In 2009 he picked up the walk rate a little, but his BABIP and batting average took a huge hit, dropping to a .224 average as he hit .249 on balls in play.

As with Curtis Granderson, it appears that Johnson’s BABIP numbers in 2009 were mostly due to an increased fly ball percentage, 43.1 percent, up from 36.5 percent in 2008. That came at the expense of line drives. 24.7 percent in 2008 and17.9 percent in 2009. The increased fly balls and decreased line drives, combined with a little bad luck, can easily lead to a terrible season. The question for the Yankees is of whether Johnson can recover.

Another issue which held Johnson back in 2009 was his right wrist. After missing time with bilateral leg cramps in late June, he hit the DL in early July with wrist tendinitis. He returned on July 23, and for the rest of the season hit .261/.358/.493, though it was in just 83 plate appearances. By then he’d lost his starting job, and the whispers of a non-tender began to circle. The right wrist for a lefty is the power wrist, and a resurgence of power, even in a short sample, is good news for Johnson.

The Braves’ payroll situation further complicates the matter. They’ve hovered around $90 to $100 million over the past few years, and are over $80 million now before their arbitration players and any other additions. Johnson earned nearly $3 million in 2009, and that certainly factored into the team’s decision to non-tender him. They can’t afford to pay a player $3 to $4 million if he’s going to produce like Johnson did in 2009. In other words, they can’t afford to take the gamble, but another team could, especially because they won’t have to pay him anything close to his 2009 salary.

Chances are the Yankees won’t show much interest in Johnson. He’s a second baseman who has limited experience in left field, and who also had Tommy John surgery in 2006. If he rebounds to his 2008 level, he’s hardly an upgrade over Melky Cabrera. Only if he recovers to his 2007 form will he provide a team value in left field. Unless other teams aren’t interested and he’s forced to sign a minor league deal, I don’t think the Yankees move on Johnson. Still, his circumstances make him an intriguing option. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team grab him to play second base and get rewarded with an .800 OPS season.

Open Thread: Giants vs. Eagles
Fan Confidence Poll: December 14th, 2009
  • Yankee fan #1

    “Any team that signs Johnson gambles that he’ll return to his 2007 form, when he hit .276/.375/.457 with 16 home runs.”

    does #’s dont look intriguing to me.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      And .825 OPS doesn’t look intriguing to you? That mark would have been .045 higher than AL average out of LF this year.

    • Mike Axisa

      .375 OBP’s don’t grow on trees.

    • Salty Buggah

      Really? Damon, in this past year (which was his best ever offensively and was helped obviously by YSIII) hit .282/.365/.489. That’s an OPS of .854 while Johnson’s OPS for those stats you states is .832. Add in the possiblily/probablity to improve as a lefty in YSIII, and you’ve got similar, maybe better numbers (assuming he rebounds to hit that again) for Johnson. Add in age, potential cost, and defense, you’ve got a significantly superior player.

      Again, this may all be moot if he can’t rebound.

  • aj

    Kelly Johnson was a name that I thought twice about as well. Versatile, young, left handed. But 2009 left a lot to be desired. Any updates on the new RAB radio show?

    • Mike Axisa

      Hopefully we’ll record tomorrow.

  • Salty Buggah

    Hopefully some miracle happens and we can stash him away in AAA if needed. VERY unlikely but still, one can hope, right?

    • sabes

      No. We can’t hope for such an asinine idea. Patently ridiculous.

      • Salty Buggah

        We can’t expect it at all but we can always hope, not matter how asinine it is

        • sabes

          I’m hoping for a million dollars to appear on the table in front of me. Seems like a waste of my time and energy. Oh, I have a good idea! Let’s all hope that Matt Holliday wants to sign a minimum salary contract with the Yankees! Yeah! That’s something we can all hope for. Right?

          “Hope in one hand, shit in the other. See which one fills up first.”

          • Salty Buggah

            OK, those examples you stated were simply unrealistic so no hope can make it happen. What I said was at least remotely possible but possible nonetheless. Thanks for getting what I said.

  • NC Saint

    “If the 2010 season began today, Melky Cabrera would be the Yankees starting left fielder.”

    True indeed.

    But if spring training began today, on the other hand, Melk would be fighting for that job. He might be the best bet we have, but the fact that we have a few guys around that level makes a guy like Kelly even less appealing at any 7 figure salary. The chances of him being better than Melky next season are one thing; the chances of him being better than MAX(Melky, Gardner, Hoffman) are somewhat lower.

    So yeah, I’m with you on the minor league deal if his stock falls that far, but I sure hope we don’t put real money on that bet.

    • JMK THE OVERSHARE’s Milton Bradley Fat Park Factor

      The chances of him being better than Melky next season are one thing; the chances of him being better than MAX(Melky, Gardner, Hoffman) are somewhat lower.

      I’m going to take a slight objection to your point. Melky, for all his issues, is clearly a superior player than Gardner and Hoffman, so if you can bet on him being better than Melky, well, it stands to reason he’d be a big improvement over the other options. Melky, however, is the more consistent player at a similar salary. Take the sure thing in this case.

      I’ll agree that the risk isn’t great unless you’re really confident he can rebound and will take a low salary OR a minor league deal. I don’t think there’s a fair chance of either of those things happening. But those 2007 numbers do look flavorful. A .375 OBP? Holy cheese whiz!

      • Benjamin Kabak

        I think the jury is still out as to whether Melky is truly a superior player to Gardner. Gardner was more valuable to the Yanks last year, but Melky has had way more experience. It hasn’t been great experience by any means, but it counts for something.

        • JMK THE OVERSHARE’s Milton Bradley Fat Park Factor

          Perhaps I exaggerated a tad. It’s not that cut and dried. We can’t necessarily make the argument for/against either simply due to the SSS of Gardner (and Hoffman, for that matter).

          That said, and I hate to use this argument on RAB of all places, but I think from what I’ve seen of Brett Gardner, with his hitting approach, his stats were above what we can expect of him. It looks like Juan Pierre redux. His approach is downright terrible; that swing looks like it hasn’t been altered since T-ball. I get the feeling pitchers are going to figure him out and he won’t be strong enough to make the adjustment that will enable him to make decent contact.

          His defense and base stealing (not base running, necessarily) are certainly better than Melky, but I wonder if he could even approach Melky’s hitting line, which is average. Melky doesn’t excel at anything but he’s fairly average at everything and has some pop. He won’t hurt your club, whereas I feel Gardner’s bat would be a big liability.

          If Gardner’s OBP can be .350, along with his already superior defense and base stealing, he’d be overall a better player. By a lot. I just can’t possibly see him getting close to .350 with that approach.

          /knows this argument is flawed
          //not a fan of Melky at all

      • Ed

        Melky, for all his issues, is clearly a superior player than Gardner and Hoffman

        Melky just posted a career high 99 OPS+. That’s coming after 3 years of decline, from 95 to 88 to 68. The 68 was probably only that high because he was optioned to the minors after several months of slumping.

        The 99 OPS+ also came in a season where he got benched for Gardner when he hit a cold streak. Leave him in the lineup all year and it’s probably lower.

        I feel like I haven’t seen enough of Gardner to know his true talent level, but, one season of almost average production from Melky isn’t enough to convince me that he’s better than the other options.

        • JMK THE OVERSHARE’s Milton Bradley Fat Park Factor

          Yes, Melky is definitely a streaky player. Highly inconsistent. It’s mind boggling sometimes. I know. I think it’s narrative to think that Melky only did a better job because he was benched. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s all speculative.

          I don’t want to hash it out how much true talent Gardner has, but the guy is older than Melky, has absolutely zero pop and may get the bat knocked out of his hands too much to even put up the line he did in ’09. I think big league pitchers will adjust and he’ll end up as a nice 4th OF/defensive sub, whereas Melky at least is average, though outrageously inconsistent, at pretty much everything.

          Check out my response to Ben, above, if you’re curious to see more of my reasons.

          • Ed

            I think it’s narrative to think that Melky only did a better job because he was benched. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s all speculative.

            Of course it’s speculative, but, obviously Yankees felt that way as well or they wouldn’t have benched him.

            You could be dead on for Gardner. I don’t really know.

            My objection is more that stating that Melky is average. He’s had 2 seasons of a hair under average, and 2 of sucking. At this point, average is a best case for Melky.

            • Bronx Cheer

              Agree with everything you said. Garner is an unknown (with most scouts doubting his ability to get on base in the majors), and Melky is a known mediocrity.

          • Angelo

            Melky is also still young and He can still improve. Are we forgetting that? Gardner has possibly already reached his ceiling or is fairly close to it.

            • The Three Amigos

              So Gardner with barely a year of inconsistent playing time has reached his ceiling and Melky with 4 years of playing time has not…

  • J. Pomales

    How bout a cheap contract and have him try to fight for the spot between melky-Gardner-Hoffman ?

    • whozat

      Do you think that will be his best offer?

  • Camilo Gerardo

    granderson and johnson’s fly ball rates will = Home runs in YSIII


  • Granderslam

    Just try and trade for DeJesus if Damon does not return. He would be an upgrade defensively. With DeJesus, Granderson, and hopefully a Matsui return, we really wouldn’t be losing much.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      How much more than Gardner is DeJesus gonna cost?

      If it’s Gardner and a non-prospect, sure. If it’s Gardner and a real prospect, pass. There are better/cheaper ways to add a leftfielder.

    • Mike Axisa

      Is DeJesus enough of an upgrade over Melky to justify the extra $2-2.5M in extra salary ($2.8-3.5M with the luxury tax)?

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Melky, career: .269/.331/.385 (88+)
        DeJesus, career: .286/.358/.425 (106+)

        I’m not the biggest DeJesus fan in the world, but… yeah, he’s probably worth the extra 3.5M.

        • aj

          And you lose the great arm, the clutch/switch hitting, Melky is five years younger, more efficient base stealer, etc. I don’t think it’s worth it for that minimal an upgrade.

          • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

            And you lose the great arm,

            Melky, Outfield ARM, 2006-2009:
            +2.3, +5.3, +1.0, -3.2 (total: +5.4)
            DeJesus, Outfield ARM 2006-2009:
            +6.3, -6.3, -2.8, +6.3 (total: +3.5)

            Both Melky’s arm strength and overall defensive ability are vastly overrated.

            the clutch/switch hitting,

            Melky, career “clutch” tripleslashes:
            RISP – 597 PA, .271/.341/.372
            2 outs, RISP – 276 PA, .234/.312/.335
            Late & Close – 327 PA, .298/.368/.378
            High Lvrge – 418 PA, .307/.351/.420

            DeJesus, career “clutch” tripleslashes:
            RISP – 727 PA, .315/.401/.441
            2 outs, RISP – 324 PA, .324/.426/.455
            Late & Close – 442 PA, .249/.329/.367
            High Lvrge – 528 PA, .303/.379/.448

            Push. (Also, don’t forget that Melky has always been the batter opposing pitchers WANT to pitch to in clutch situations in our stacked lineup. The opposite is true for DeJesus… he’s the Royal they pitch around to get to some other vastly inferior Royal.)

            Melky is five years younger

            No argument.

            more efficient base stealer, etc.

            Melky, SB/CS, 2006-2009:
            44/14 (75.8%)
            DeJesus, SB/CS, 2006-2009:
            31/24 (56.3%)

            You’ve got me there. However, neither player attempts steals enough for it to really matter. Averaging 14 steal attempts a season is fairly negligible.

            I don’t think it’s worth it for that minimal an upgrade.

            Melky, WAR, 2006-2009:
            +1.6, +0.6, +0.1, +1.6

            DeJesus, WAR, 2006-2009:
            +3.8, +2.6, +2.6, +3.2

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

    Fun fact (maybe):

    LHB Kelly Johnson has a career reverse split.

    vs RHP as LH – 1378 PA, .251/.341/.424 (.765)
    vs LHP as LH – 524 PA, .299/.360/.448 (.808)

    I believe Olney noted in one of his columns that Kelly Johnson’s 2009 split v. righties was the worst of any lefty batter v. righty pitching in all of baseball.

    vs RHP as LH – 256 PA, .188/.281/.314 (.595)
    vs LHP as LH – 90 PA, .325/.368/.600 (.968)

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      Appendix: That brutal 2009 split v. righties came with a brutal .208 BABIP, FWIW. His career BABIP against righties is a healthier .290.

    • JMK THE OVERSHARE’s Milton Bradley Fat Park Factor

      That’s pretty strange, man. Wonder why that is.

  • Hughesus Christo

    I would love to see him acquired.

    1. I’d rather see him in left than Melky.
    2. I’d rather have him over Hairston as backup IF filler (I know he blows defensively at 2nd, I don’t care if he’s playing once a week).
    3. I’d rather have him in AAA over any of the trash we’ve been storing there recently (SHELLY)

  • Nick

    Why does it seem like every player’s down year can be explained by a unnaturally low BABIP that will surely rebound?

  • trent

    If the season started today wouldn’t it be Gardner in left, Melky in right and Swisher as DH? Johnson shouldn’t even be an option in my mind.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      No, because here’s how the decision tree would go.

      A) Swisher is heads and shoulders over both Melky and Gardner offensively, and the advantage Gardner (not Melky) has over Swish defensively is not remotely enough to justify picking him over Swisher. Swish starts somewhere, hands down. That’s RF.
      B) We thus have holes at LF and DH. The best players currently on our 40 man left to fill those holes are, in order, Melky, Gardner, and Miranda. Melky’s more accomplished and a surer bet to outperform the other two, so he naturally gets the inside track on LF.
      C) That leaves Gardner and Miranda for the DH spot. Miranda gets it as he’s the better pure hitter.
      D) Gardner is thus the 4th OF. There would be occasions where he’d play and one of the two corner OF’s (Melky/Swisher) would play DH, bumping Miranda to the bench, but that wouldn’t be the norm, that would be the exception. And, the OF that should rotate to DH when Gardner plays is Melky, not Swisher; he’s the inferior outfielder of the two.

  • Richard Deegan

    Why is 2009 considered his “bad” year? Looks more like 2007 was the outlier vs. 2005, 8, 9. Consistently big numbers (900-1000 OPS) in the minors, and then…..?

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  • Langdon Alger

    this guy reminds me of Marcus Giles way too much. but I think Yankees should take a chance on him

  • AndrewYF

    I remember a conversation with someone in 2007 saying they wouldn’t trade Johnson straight-up for Cano, because Johnson got on base and Cano didn’t.

    • Stryker

      on other sports forums i’ve gotten into arguments with people that swore up and down that WILSON BETEMIT would have a better career as an infielder than robinson cano.

      …look how that turned out.

      • Matt ACTY/BBD

        Lol Weber.

  • Rose

    No no no. Rather just throw Melky out there and sign Matsui for DH. Kelly Johnson seems to be a somewhat glorified Melky Cabrera.

  • larryf

    Actually Kelly looks like Grittner in that photo. I am happy with Melky/Gardner batting 9th. Matsui at DH and more pitching. Bye Bye Johnny D. Boston and the Yanks thank you!

    • Rose

      I am happy with Melky/Gardner batting 9th. Matsui at DH and more pitching.


  • Jake H

    I would rather have Damon back but if he keeps wanting what no one is going to give him then I wouldn’t mind kicking the tires on Kelly.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    If Kelly Johnson agrees to a minor league deal, why not? Take a look. Put him in left in Scranto, and see what he can do. There is no reason not to put a little heat on Melky and Brett.

    • Matt ACTY/BBD

      If he take s MiL deal, sure. But will he? He hasn’t played LF since ’05 and I’m sure he could at least get a shot to start at second somewhere else.

      Melky in left would be bad, but if the Yankees backed it up with a true DH, it wouldn’t be awful.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        Trust me, I would still rather have 2 of Damon, Matsui or Cameron. That way Melky is the 4th outfielder, and Brett tries to win the International League MVP.

        • Matt ACTY/BBD


      • Rose

        Melky in left would be bad

        I don’t think it would be that bad. He’s a decent CF…he’s young…and his numbers thus far in LF aren’t all that bad…albeit SSS.

        But I think if we back him up with Matsui at DH…we’ll be completely fine. Especially if we sign Matsui and shift the focus to pitching from there.

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          I love Melky. I won’t panic if he’s the starting LF next year. I think he will get better and better. BUT, for next year, 2 of the 3 please.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada


          I’m not so sure Melky is currently in line to be our Opening Day leftfielder if we don’t add another outfielder between now and then.

          I’m not saying this would be a wise move (UZR, for one, would say it’s batshit insane), but, I’ve got a hunch Melky may still be our Opening Day centerfielder, and Curtis Granderson may be our Opening Day leftfielder. That’s how the team may decide to structure it.

          Don’t say you weren’t warned.

          • Matt ACTY/BBD

            I could see that happening.

          • AndrewYF

            I’m pretty sure Brian Cashman was recently quoted as saying Curtis Granderson is without a doubt their center fielder, and they didn’t get him to play left field.

          • Andy in Sunny Daytona

            Either way, no matter how you dish out the starting positions, adding 2 of those 3 guys, makes this team 100x better.

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

              Agreed wholeheartedly.

  • MattG

    Placido Polanco and Chone Figgins did very well for themselves. Mark DeRosa’s leverage just took a hit.

    I don’t see Kelly Johnson as a starting left fielder, so rather than replace Melky with another non-starting left fielder, I’d rather look at/wait for a real solution.

  • Matt K

    About the Damon situation. I think offering arbitration may have been a good idea for the Yankees. I know we have all heard before that one year at 16mil would have been to much if accepted but only for one year its not to bad. But I think the risk of Damon accepting would have been worth the rewards of him declining for two reasons one of which I think is an original thought.

    He could sign elsewhere and we get a draft pick

    if signing damon would cause another team to lose a draft pick as a result of signing him it would decrease his value and the yankees would then have more leverage on him and could sign him for less. Risk < the rewards

    I know this topic was most likely exhausted long ago but I just thought about that and wanted to share.

  • Jeffrey

    I don’t know him very well, so I may be way off, but what about Jonny Gomez a left fielder who has been non-tendered by the Reds? He had 20 home runs and an OPS of .879 in 280 at bats last year. It looks like he can be had for $2m or so.

    If you really want to be provocative wouldn’t Milton Bradley be a great pickup? You can get him for almost nothing and, I may be wrong, but I don’t think that he gets out of line in the Yankee clubhouse. The guy is only one year removed from leading the AL in OPS. The more serious risk with him is probably injury and with the depth the Yankees have they can probably assume that one, especially if Chicago eats the vast majority of his contract.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      Gomes, not Gomez.

      And hells to the naw on Milton Bradley.

  • C

    If we could bring back Nady on a cheap contract (2 or 3 mil), that would free up money to sign a DH and a pitcher. People are discussing Jonny Gomes and Kelly Johnson, and hes better than them.

  • yanksfan4life52

    Sign Jack Cust for DH,maybe Mike Macdougal or Matt Capps for the pen,put Joba back in the pen where he belongs,try for Sheets,if not go with Gaudin or Ace to fill out the starters (with Hughes also).Then ya got your pen with Robertson,Marte,Joba and Mo,with Macdougal or Capps,and let’s rock.and screw all the sabermetrics numbers.

  • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat
    • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

      Video test complete.

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