Did the Yanks make a mistake by passing on Reed Johnson?


Just a few days after the Yankees brought Randy Winn aboard the Dodgers struck by signing Reed Johnson, who was also in consideration for the left field spot in the Bronx at some point as well. When the deal was first reported, I said it would be interesting to see how much money Johnson got compared to Winn, who was the recipient of the Yankees’ last $2M. As it turns out, the Dodgers landed Johnson for just $800,000, which makes the Winn contract look just awful.

It’s not that Winn is overpaid compared to the value he provides, in fact if he’s just a one win player in 2010 (something he’s been in every single one of his full seasons in the bigs) then the Yankees are getting a slight bargain. However with the market like it is and compared to his peers like Johnson, Winn is overpaid. Obviously there’s a lot more going on here than just what appears on the surface, and we have no idea what went on behind the scenes. Winn was reportedly ready to accept another offer (from the Nationals) and he certainly leveraged that against the Yanks, and Johnson may have taken a bit of a discount to go back to Southern California, where he grew up. We have no idea how (or if) those factors came into play.

But getting back to the players, the idea was that the Yanks were looking to bring in a righty hitting outfielder to platoon with Brett Gardner, and Johnson seemed perfect for the role. He’s a career .313-.378-.463 hitter against southpaws, compared to Winn who’s hit .280-.332-.426 off lefties in his career and just .158-.184-.200 against them in 2009. There’s just no disputing that Johnson was a far better fit for that role, however the game doesn’t end in the batter’s box.

Just looking at the players the Yankees have vying for bench spots – Winn, Ramiro Pena, Jamie Hoffmann, Greg Golson, Frankie Cervelli – it’s easy to see that the team is emphasizing defensive competence with their reserves. Johnson’s defense has been a mixed bag, as he’s posted an above average +5.4 UZR in 106 defensive games in left over the last three seasons, so it’s a nice number in a not large sample. Most of his recent action has come in center (just 21 games in right over the last three seasons), where he’s posted a -6.0 UZR in 121 defensive games. We’ve already discussed the fact that Winn is one of the best defensive corner outfielders (and best baserunners) in the game here, so the run prevention smiley face goes on Winn’s paper.

The prevailing thought is that the Yankees are susceptible to lefty relievers in the late innings with the likes of Curtis Granderson and Gardner hitting towards the bottom of the lineup, and that’s certainly true, but it’s not like Johnson has set the world on fire as a pinch hitter. In 90 career pinch hitting appearances, he’s a .238-.303-.375 hitter, and if we’re going to trash Winn for 125 at-bats vs. lefties in 2009, it would be hypocritical to not denounce Johnson for his small sample size shortcomings. And the Yankees aren’t a team that pinch hits all that much anyway (97 total pinch hitting appearances in 2009, most of which came when they were resting players in September), so we’re talking about a situation that might pop up once or twice a week.

Yes, giving Randy Winn $2M next season is drastically overpaying considering to how the market shook out, however we’re talking about a spare outfielder and the 23rd or 24th man on the roster. Overpaying that guy for one season isn’t a big deal, especially for the Yanks. Johnson is a nice player, but as fans we tend to focus on just one aspect of a player’s game and trick ourselves into thinking they’re more (or less) than they really are, and that seems to have definitely happened with these two players given their production against lefthanders. CHONE projects Winn for 0.8 WAR in 2010, Johnson got a whopping 0.1 WAR. Sure, Reed Johnson hits lefties well, but Randy Winn does everything else better. The price is definitely wrong, but the player is right.

Photo Credit: Paul Beaty, AP

Categories : Hot Stove League


  1. Hughesus Christo says:

    Isn’t the story that the Yankees had Winn targeted for a long time and stepped in now because he was about to sign elsewhere?

  2. A.D. says:

    Winn is more likely to actually stay healthy along with provide more upside, since it appears that if Winn bounces back to form he will be better than Reed Johnson bouncing back to form.

  3. A.D. says:

    Also this is the problem with floating an exact 2M figure. The Yanks felt they’d be able to potentially squeeze Damon’s price down (and maybe others), but it also means anyone that’s willing to accept less than 2M, is going to come in and ask for at least 2M since the Yanks have publicly said that’s how much they have to spend.

  4. pc says:

    defense, defense, defense, i will defer to the yankee brass when it comes to signing bench players, second guessing is fine but gets redundant after awhile.

    • if defense can make a pretty meh seattle team that much better last year than it can make a really good yankee team into an unstoppable force.

      • Thomas says:

        About the Mariners’ defense (since a lot of people have brought this up on the blog), it was very good and certainly helped with the turn around. However, the key reason Seattle was good last year was luck. The Mariners scored 640 runs while allowing 692, which is good for a 75-87 Pythagorean record, a far cry from their actual record of 85-77.

        Was their defense a major reason for their improvement in runs allowed? Absolutely. Did it improve them from a horrible team in 2008? Yes. But did their defense improvement make them a good team? No, they are probably below average and could be due for a rude awakening this year.

        I definitely think the Yankees and all teams should look at defense when evaluating players, but I am just sick of all the Seattle love.

        End rant.

        • dkidd says:

          seattle’s WAR predicted a 83-79

          they’re the flavor of the month right now and it’s annoying, but i don’t think they over performed that much last year

        • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster) says:

          I pick the Rangers for that division, now I think of it.

  5. dkidd says:

    right player, wrong $ sums it up

    i approve of the yankees building their roster to fit a stadium that has a right field, a center field, and another center field

  6. AndrewYF says:

    For the past 3 seasons, Reed Johnson has been a part-time platoon player, pretty much useless against RHP (meaning he has the worse side of the platoon), and a mediocre or worse fielder. Over that same time period, Randy Winn has been a full-time player, effective vs both RHP and LHP (exception being last year vs LHP), and a fantastic defensive outfielder. He’s also been consistently excellent on the basepaths.

    Considering that Winn is more insurance against injury than anything else (so the Yankees don’t have to throw, say, Colin Curtis out there as a starter), I don’t really see $2 million as ‘vastly overpaying’ at all. It’s tough to overpay at that price range, really. The Yankees think Randy Winn is a better overall player than Reed Johnson, and I see now that they’re very likely correct.

    • Will says:

      Another great point. Not only is Winn a better defender with a better history of staying healthy, but he is likely to play a lot more because of the splits you mentioned. In other words, nothing about Johnson’s 800K salary suggests Winn is overpaid at $2mn.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      That’s a good point, Johnson has a history of back problems. Winn has never once been on the DL.

      • crawdaddie says:


        As was alluded to in that article, I think Johnson’s price to sign with the Yankees might have been higher than with the Dodgers. I wonder if Reed Johnson still lives in California because if he does then that might explain it.

        • Or, somewhat conversely, his price to sign with NYY wasn’t higher than it was to sign with LAD, but his price to sign with LAD was lower than it was to sign with NYY.

          A) the Yankees already signed Winn, thus driving down one of Johnson’s potential options and depressing his market, giving him a greater sense of urgency to take whatever the Dodgers were offering, and
          B) The Dodgers are broke and can’t afford to pay Johnson any more than 800k, and he knew it, so he took what they offered with less haggling since he knew it would be pointless

      • And, as some schmuck pointed out the other day (no, not that schmuck, the other schmuck), Johnson’s back issues may have lead to stress fracture issues in his legs/feet:

        It appears Johnson’s only major downside is his injury history. The frequency of his back injuries makes this no light consideration. If he misses just 15 days because of back issues, it’s no big deal. Thankfully, that’s all he’s missed in each of the past two seasons. His two recent lower body injuries also raise a red flag. His stress fractures were in different legs — right leg and left foot — so maybe there’s not a connection. But for a player with Johnson’s injury history, it’s certainly a concern.

        Joseph “Sir Smoke-A-Lot” Pawlikowski

  7. MattG says:

    I think the Yankees were considering the Gardner-falls-flat-on-his-face factor, or the possibility of one of the outfielders missing significant time. Whereas Johnson seems like a superior platoon option, Winn seems like a better everyday option.

    I also wonder if the Yankees are considering shifting Swisher to LF to accommodate Winn’s throwing arm.

    • I think the Yankees were considering the Gardner-falls-flat-on-his-face factor, or the possibility of one of the outfielders missing significant time. Whereas Johnson seems like a superior platoon option, Winn seems like a better everyday option.


    • Jeffrey says:

      MattG has hit it on the head. I think that the Yankees are covering the possibility that Gardner doesn’t cut it as a full-time player. If that happens they think that Winn could be a reasonable alternative while Reed Johnson is appealing only as a guy who hits against lefties. Add in his injury history (I have a bad back and it just doesn’t go away.) and I think you have the reason for the Winn signing.

  8. Slugger27 says:

    reed also has averaged less than 300 PAs the last 3 years, while winn has been an everyday player for a decade

    winn has much more reliable health in my opinion

  9. Mark says:

    Thames and Baldelli are still out there – they can handle the late-inning lefty killer role

    • Ed says:

      At first I read that as “late-inning rally killer role.” I now have an image of Thames pinch hitting and striking out to kill rallies stuck in my head.

    • Slugger27 says:

      ya know, i never did quite understand why its so much harder for a lefty to hit a LHP than it is for a righty to hit a RHP

      theres seemingly no difference, yet lefties always seem to have much worse platoon splits

      • A.D. says:

        Sees a whole lot less of them, all growing up through the leagues righties will have to face righties, many lefties won’t see much left handed pitchers.

        That and lefties can afford to only be good for 400-500 at-bats a year, righties can’t really only be good for 100-200

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster) says:

      That would be a nice (and very helpful) pickup, but I do doubt it happens. I think we’re looking at the 2010 Yankees roster.

  10. Ed says:

    Reed Johnson hasn’t played a full season in several years, and he’s coming off an injury. Randy Winn at least plays full time, which boosts his value.

    Also, we’ve got a situation where we’re taking less than ideal, largely interchangeable players where there are not enough jobs to go around. Each time another opening is filled, there are less teams to play against each other, reducing the leverage of the remaining players. Especially in this case, when the Yankees – who one would assume would pay the most – get out of the market, the remaining players should expect to get less.

  11. Steve S says:

    I know everyone loved Reed Johnson’s splits but he is 32 years old and for the last three years he has not been able to stay healthy. The Yankees already made their investment in a high reward/oft-injured role player by signing Nick Johnson. I know Winn had a terrible year last year but in 2008 and 2007 he was a league average player. Yes he is in decline but he provides some stability which does have value. Finding someone who is right handed and has some pop off the bench is not the most difficult thing in the world.

  12. Steve B. says:

    Mike, Reed Johnson’s lifetime BA vs. LHP is .313, not .303….just trying to help you with difficult math.


  13. Steve B. says:

    Mike, Randy Winn’s career line vs. LHP is: .280/.332/.426 NOT .289/.348/.417

    This is basic math, Mikey….your argument works better when you get the numbers correct.

    Let’s get it together !!

  14. Steve B. says:

    Mike, you consistently make mistakes when you give us statistics regarding your argument…SLOW DOWN when you write !!

    I think you’re more intent in getting the post done, then stating correct numbers to support your argument.

    Proper research takes time, and you should recheck your facts…and then recheck them again.

  15. RKelly39 says:

    I don’t disagree with your analysis here but I thought that this blog wanted Reed Johnson and not Randy Winn before the Winn signing.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      I don’t think we ever came forward is support of someone for LF. If anything, it was Damon.

      • RKelly39 says:

        No, I know it was Damon, Mike — but I specifically remember the phrase “out of this group (of non-Damon players) I would maybe only want Reed Johnson and ______ (player who was not Randy Winn).” You should dig it up.

        It just seems like all of a sudden Randy Winn is okay. That’s fine. I like him. Just, you know … People liked Reed Johnson a lot before.

        • andrew says:

          That’s why I think this is funny… everyone was advocating Reed Johnson until the Yankees signed Winn and then they got on the Winn bandwagon.

          • pete says:

            i’m not sure why we would have done better by sticking to our guns when the evidence (very well presented in the article above) says we’re wrong. If people change their minds when they realize that they were wrong, isn’t that a GOOD thing?

            • andrew says:

              Well, no, it’s definitely a good thing when people have the ability to change their minds when they realize they are wrong, but I just don’t think that’s what happened here. Bandwagon jumping is not the same as people realizing they are wrong.

              • pete says:

                but what evidence is there that that is in fact what is happening? To me, it just seems like people realized that Cash was right.

        • pete says:

          but randy winn, while on the radar, was far from the forefront of most of our brains. Most of us here chose to see RJ’s platoon splits vs. lefties, and said “sounds good”. Then Cash went out and got Winn, forcing us all to look a little closer. When this happened, many, albeit not all, of us realized that cashman probably made the right call, since winn is due for an offensive correction, plays better defense, is a terrific baserunner/stealer and has a history of staying healthy. People are allowed to change their minds when their knowledge of a situation increases. In fact, it’s what they SHOULD do.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      A lot of commenters did, yeah.

      • RKelly39 says:

        Not only the comments section. It something was ‘out of this group of non-Damon players’ I would only be interested in Reed Johnson and (Ah!) Xavier Nady.” I think it was Nady now. Suddenly Winn is more valuable. It’s just not consistent.

        Again: I like this analysis. I like Randy Winn. I like RAB. Just saying.

        • dkidd says:

          i wanted reed johnson as a platoon partner for gardner, based on his splits vs lhp. now that i have all the facts re winn, i see that signing him was clearly the right move

          cashman >>>>>>>>>> me (just how i like it)

          • RKelly39 says:

            That’s cool. It just seems like some revisionist history.

            If Cashman signed Reed Johnson would we be reading an article about how much better Reed Johnson is than Randy Winn?

            Just asking.

            • pete says:

              no, but I’m sure we’d be reading or have already read an article about the merits of signing reed johnson. That does not make the current situation hypocritical – there WOULD have been merits to signing Johnson. But there are also merits to signing Winn. And cashman believed that they outweighed the merits of Johnson. Cashman believing this (and signing Winn, of course) led many of us to take a closer look at Winn. With this closer look came, for most of us, the realization that winn was better than we thought. I don’t think it should surprise you that most of us here are a bit behind (chronologically, not necessarily analytically) Cash and Co when it comes to player evaluation. We also are more liable to come to half-assed conclusions about things like the 3.5th outfielder on this team, since the team would have been strong regardless of who was signed here. My guess is, since nobody was here was really focusing on Winn until after he was signed, people wouldn’t have really compared winn to johnson enough to realize that winn probably would have been a better signing, so no, while we wouldn’t be reading an article about how johnson was a worse choice than winn, we also wouldn’t be reading about how johnson was a better choice than winn, because we wouldn’t have been thinking about Winn.

              • RKelly39 says:

                Dude, the team is stacked. It’s the LF platoon guy. Not even remotely worked up. We’re going to steamroll the division.

                • pete says:

                  oh i didn’t mean to imply you were worked up. I was just pointing out the difference between revising your opinion upon more thorough investigation and “revisionist history”

            • What’s funny is that this started off as an article about how Reed Johnson is a better value than Randy Winn. But when you start putting things together, you can’t ignore the evidence.

  16. Steve H says:

    In a true platoon situation, Johnson would likely be the better fit. I prefer Winn because if Gardner clearly can’t cut it as half of a platoon, Winn brings more to the table as a regular than Johnson would. Through his career (defined by a large sample size), Winn has hit both lefties and righties, stayed healthy, and played great defense. Johnson can’t make all of those claims.

  17. Tom Zig says:

    The Yankees don’t make mistakes.

    Well except for Kei Igawa, but that has been rectified.

  18. Mike HC says:

    In Cashman we trust. It is not like many of us have the time to really scout Winn or Reed Johnson. I feel pretty comfortable that if Cashman liked Winn more than Reed, so should I. Of course you can’t predict who will have a better season, but Winn has been a pretty reliable vet, albeit in the NL.

    • pete says:


      it’s not about sticking to your opinions here. It’s about having the right opinions, whether they were your first or not.

    • vin says:

      I agree with everything you said. Except that Winn has played most of his career in the AL.

      • Mike HC says:

        true. I guess I was just focusing on the “reliable vet” part, which was his past five years in SF. I do remember him in his Seattle days though as well. He was always just a very understated, consistent player. I hope age has not caught up to him.

  19. pete says:

    I think it’s a little unfair to say that because Johnson got $800,000, $2 million on Randy Winn is necessarily overspending, for a couple of reasons. First off, the yankees needed a player roughly fitting winn’s profile (good baserunner, defender, potentially average bat, reliably healthy), and had limited time to sign him, which gave Winn a bit of leverage in the negotiations, I’m sure. Secondly, Winn’s track record of staying healthy gives him an entirely different market value than Johnson, since the market value decreases drastically for a player who may miss two months. $2 million for a quality veteran “bench” player with a history of staying healthy and producing sounds like a pretty standard price. I think people make conclusions about markets based on other aspects of the markets, but there isn’t an exact correlation from one area to another. High-end FAs still receive lucrative long-term deals, and good bench players are pretty well-compensated for their contributions. Where the market seems to have dropped off in the last year or two is for aging and declining regulars with bad defense (Damon/Dye types), and injury risks (reed johnson, and actually nick johnson (his numbers and age would have netted him a lot more than $5.5 a few years ago, I think))

    • Mike HC says:

      There are some positives though that could make Reed Johnson more attractive to the Yanks than other teams. He has consistently hit lefties better than Winn, and the Yanks could use an outfielder who is strong against lefties. He has also recently played in the AL East for Toronto, so not only does he already know all the Yankee hoopla, but is already familiar with the pitchers.

      I prefer Winn, but the players are very close, and I can see how they would both be of about equal value to the Yanks. Maybe value at that point did not matter. The Yanks just wanted the player they preferred to have regardless of price tag, as long as it was under 2 million, and Winn was a hair better.

    • Steve H says:

      Agreed. Johnson is strictly a platoon player. Winn has the ability to be a full time player, if necessary. Now if Gardner hits .286/.365/.390 (with great D) over 400 or so ab’s, Winn might seem a little excessive for a 4th OF, but if Gardner is having success, we’ll all be happy anyway.

      Johnson was a platoon guy for Gardner.
      Winn is an insurance policy for Gardner.

  20. Dillon says:

    Winn might be overpaid, but you know who def is? Melky

    Still would love that trade if we didn’t give up Viz

  21. Bo says:

    Winn for 2 or Damon for 6?

    Not even a thought. I could see if they got Winn for under a mill especially after his season last yr. I dont know how they talk budget when they are giving him 2, Mitre a contract, Igawas getting 5, etc.

    • SM says:

      You need to count luxury tax to get true cost, 2.8 v 8.4, assuming Damon would have even taken a 1yr $6 deal.

    • pete says:

      “I dont know how they talk budget when they are giving him 2, Mitre a contract, Igawas getting 5, etc.”

      you would know if you actually bothered to here the responses to your arguments.


      Bo: This is a terrible move! (lists a few moderately reasonable, if overstated, objections to whatever is bothering him)

      Random Rational RAB Commenter: Calm down, it’s a better move than you realize. (addresses Bo’s objections logically, possibly adds some more to argument)

      Bo: no, here’s why it sucks (lists the same reasons as above)

      RRRABC: I’ve already responded to those points, and logic is clearly favoring my side of the argument right now. Of course, I’m willing to hear your opinions, so do you have any other arguments that haven’t already been rebutted?

      Bo: (silence)

      **3 hours later, in a different thread, vaguely related to the same topic**

      Bo: here’s why the move sucks (restates the same boversimplified argument he has made the last 14 times, to which there have been 14 patient rebuttals, to which Bo has yet to respond with anything but his first argument)

      (aaaaand SCENE)

  22. chriso says:

    A few days ago, I posted that I think that anyone who was excited by the prospect of the Yankees signing Reed Johnson is in bad need of sex.
    I’m thinking now that anyone who is still talking about Reed Johnson and the Yankees has a problem that even some good sex wouldn’t cure.
    Look, they got Winn to replace the extraordinary, MVP-in-waiting Melky Cabrera. They could still use a RH OF bat. They’ve got Hoffmann around, and Thames and Gomes are still out there on the FA market.
    Reed’s a dead issue. Or, at least, he should be.

  23. aj says:

    No. Cmon Reed Johnson?

  24. Nick says:

    Reed Johnson’s bat sounds more appealing but guys like Randy Winn play a key role in October with their good defense and baserunning abilities. Ask yourself this question. It’s a one run lead for the Yankees in the late innings of the postseason.Would you rather have Winn or Swisher in right?

  25. MikeD says:

    I’m still not understanding why people wanted Johnson vs. Winn. Granted, I can’t get worked up about either, but Winn is the better player.

    As for the price difference, perhaps it was the Yankees who drove the price of Johnson down. Once the Yankees signed their left fielder, the price for the others were going down. If the Yankees picked Johnson, then it was Winn who would have gotten less. Just a guess.

  26. [...] Not long after that, the Dodgers landed Reed Johnson for just a six-figure payout, and I said the Yanks overpaid to get their man, even though he was the right [...]

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