What Kelly Johnson adds to the Yankees

Thoughts following the Jacoby Ellsbury deal
Expect Gardner in the 2014 outfield
I mean, obviously I was picking this picture. (Al Bello/Getty Images)
I mean, obviously I was picking this picture. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

With focus on Jacoby Ellsbury and his new $153 million contract, the Yankees acquired another player last night. As many of us slept or vented our feelings about Ellsbury, the Yankees were working on a deal with Kelly Johnson. It’s a mere $2.75 million for one year, or about 1.8 percent of Ellsbury’s contract. But Johnson could be the kind of player the Yankees need to help round out their big-name roster.

During his tenure with the Rays last year, we got a glimpse at Johnson’s versatility. When he came up with the Braves in 2005 he played left field, but after he returned from Tommy John surgery in 2007 (more on that in a moment) he seemed entrenched at second base. That’s where he played for most of the next six seasons, until he hit free agency. When he signed with the Rays, though, he divided his time among four positions: 50 games started in LF, 14 at 2B, 12 at 3B, and 2 at 1B in addition to 18 at DH. That’s the kind of multi-positional player the Yankees have needed for years.

To date the Yankees have signed three free agents, and all three bat from the left side of the plate. That might seem odd for a team that got the league’s worst production from right-handed hitters in 2013. But Johnson can hold his own against same-handed pitchers. For his career he displays no real platoon split, and has actually OPS’d about 10 points higher against left-handed pitching. In recent years he’s performed better against righties; last year he hit all 16 of his homers against righties, though he did have a .337 OBP against lefties.

Johnson’s greatest attribute might be his durability. After missing the 2006 season after undergoing Tommy John, he’s spent just one stint on the DL, missing 17 games in 2009 with wrist tendonitis. Other than that he’s missed just a few games here and there with nagging injuries, although that has totaled just 11 games, not counting his DL stint, since the start of 2007.

One other interesting tidbit about Johnson is his increased production with runners in scoring position. His career OPS jumps from .762 overall to .808 with runners in scoring position — and he matched that .808 OPS with RISP last season.* As friend of RAB Tommy Rancel notes, this might be due to Johnson’s pull tendency. While, as we’ve seen with Mark Teixeira and others, teams will shift the infield on guys like Johnson, they’re less able to do that with runners in scoring position. The extra gaps give him enough room to knock through some ground balls.

*Even better, he hit only 3 of his 16 homers with RISP, and another 4 with a runner on first. In other words, he produced runs from nothing, and additionally knocked in runners with singles, 21 of them, with ducks on the pond. That seems like an ideal distribution to me. Homers are always welcome, and HR with RISP can often mean many runs, but singling in scoring position runners while hitting bases empty homers does have a certain intuitive value.

As long as the Yankees have signed Johnson as a guy who can play different positions on different days, the relationship should work. Johnson has proven himself versatile and durable over the years, traits the Yankees certainly must value after 2013. His ability to hold his own against both lefties and righties means he can reasonably play both sides of the platoon. If, on the other hand, Cano leaves and Johnson becomes his replacement, the Yankees have a lot more work to do. But that was the case with or without Johnson. At least with him they have someone who can competently play the position.

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Thoughts following the Jacoby Ellsbury deal
Expect Gardner in the 2014 outfield
  • King of Fruitless Hypos

    Ok I’ll ask: you comfortable with his as the 3B for 50 or 100 games?

    What does this mean for Mark Reynolds?

    • Dalek Jeter

      That he has a platoon partner?

      • MB923

        Yankees have to re-sign Reynolds first before he becomes a platoon player with Johnson at 3B if that is the plan. Truthfully I’d rather see Reynolds platoon more with Tex at 1B more so than with Johnson at 3B.

        • Need Pitching & Hitting

          Tex is much better against LHP than RHP.
          If they were going to platoon Tex (and they aren’t), it would be with a lefty, not a righty.

      • Need Pitching & Hitting

        At 3B?

        I’m not sure Johnson isn’t a better option at 3B against both lefties and righties.

      • nycsportzfan

        and i’m sure the selling point to reynolds will be he can get another 25games at 1st and maybe 15-20 at DH also. That way he’ll be comfortable at least knowing hes gonna play alot.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I also am very comfortable with the fact that he is not Eduardo Nunez.

    • MannyGeee

      Exactly this.

    • Mberk15

      So, so, SO exactly that.

  • MB923

    Let’s assume Cano re-signs with the Yanks and A-Rod is suspsended for the year, does he become the full time 3B suddenly or do you see him platooning with somebody like Nunez (or perhaps they re-sign Reynolds, but that would already add to a crowded bench)

    As it stands now:

    Hitters/Fielders:

    McCann
    Tex
    Jeter
    A-Rod (for now)
    Gardner
    Ellsbury
    Soriano
    Ichiro
    Wells
    Ryan
    Nunez
    Johnson
    Cervelli

    That’s already 13 players who are actively on the roster. If Cano re-signs, you have to figure 2 would get dropped, with an OFer (likely Wells) being 1 of them.

    But if Cano does Not re-sign and if A-Rod is suspended, then for now, that would make Johnson and Nunez the 2B and 3B.

    I think they still should drop Vernon Wells regardless of else signs. Ichiro is useful for defense and as a pinch runner.

    • Rick

      I’m not so sure Wells gets dropped. They may try to trade Ichiro and eat some of his salary since Wells is a zero against the luxury tax.

      • Pseudoyanks

        Seems like all of a sudden they want to win, so I’m not sure they will do this.

      • MannyGeee

        I can’t see how he makes it out of April with a job.

      • Caballo Sin Nombre

        They would have to pay most of Ichiro’s salary even if they trade him, so they wouldn’t save much. Otherwise, Ichiro is still a better player than Wells, who is replacement level at best.

  • Baked McBride

    I’ll tell yo one thing that Kelly Johnson adds to the Yankees –
    one more player with a girl’s name

    • MannyGeee

      Brook & Robin Lopez concur.

    • Darren

      Kelly Leak is gonna run you over with his moto bike. And then spit a Reggie Bar on you.

      • Baked McBride

        pound for pound the toughest ballplayer in history and the coolest guy in Hollywood history

    • Caballo Sin Nombre

      How about that Dianna chick they signed a couple weeks ago?

    • Dr. Grenaldine

      Leslie Nielsen is rolling in his grave

  • Baked McBride

    If the Yanks keep Joba (please Lord no), would they be the only team in history with two Native Americans on the roster in the same season? And if they keep Youk, they’d certainly be the only one ever with a Jewish player and two Native Americans. All we’d need to do is sign two lesbians and we’d suddenly broaden the Yankees universe to a new target market…in fact, sign Whoopi Goldberg

    • Mscott

      Too bad they signed Brian McCann instead of A.J. Pierzynski, whose personality would clearly serve the target market consisting of people like you.

      • Baked McBride

        You seem like a lot of fun

    • MannyGeee

      This

      is actually kinda funny.

  • Eddard

    I just love what the FO is doing this offseason. And if Robbie walks so be it, we’ve got Jacoby and Kelly. If the Mariners want to give Robbie $200 million let him walk. The Cardinals have laid out the blueprint for how to let a superstar walk and still win ballgames. They spent the resources more wisely and now Pujols is an albatross contract for the Angels. Keep up the good work.

    • Baked McBride

      I’d rather Cano be our albatross than Ellsbury

      • https://twitter.com/OneJay76 OneJay76

        I would agree with this statement.

        Still have to wonder why they throw this kind of money at Ellsbury, when they are holding firm with Cano. Am I alone in thinking that Cano’s game will age better in the next 7-8 years than Ellsbury?

        • Kosmo

          Fangraph´s Dave Cameron wrote a solid article about how OFers like Ellsbury age slowly. Compared to 2B who generally don´t.

          • Balt Yank

            It is hard to understand how the Yanks can give Ells $150 and let Cano walk for $200. While I am not a huge fan of Cano, Cano has had excellent years. Ells has had 1 good year last year, 1 great year prior. 2B Power is rare. At least, Yanks should have locked up Gardner with $40 for 4, before giving $150 to Ells. Yanks cannot win a World Series, lest a miracle, with CC Kuroda Nova ? & ? as their rotation. We are talking about number 2-3 starting pitchers all year long and an exhausted CC & Kuroda by the season’s end.

      • I’m One

        Clearly. But since Ellsbury isn’t really a superstar, it’s OK (in Eddardworld).

    • jsbrendog

      “They spent the resources more wisely”

      except, no. they got lucky drafting an insane amount of useful to really good players. the yankees dont have a matt adams or mat carpenter or that other guy who can play 1b whose name i forget.

      • Kosmo

        Craig ?

        • jsbrendog

          ding ding ding. thank you, sir.

    • Kosmo

      Seattle might want Cano and are willing to pony up 200+ million but for me the question would be does Cano want to be playing for Seattle the next 8-9 years. I doubt it.

  • Dalek Jeter

    I just looked up Johnson’s numbers…I want him nowhere near starting in any position. I mean..besides a little bit of power, we’re talking about a guy who has hit .226/.307/.395 in the last 3 seasons, and has wRC+’s of 93, 85, and 101 in those seasons. Again: awesome as a bench piece, but if he gets more than 500ABs this season, not a fan of this move.

    • jsbrendog

      a league average hitter as a starter is nothing to scoff at.

      • I’m One

        Would have been nice at a few positions in 2013.

    • MannyGeee

      See, I can actually get behind Kelly Johnson as a Yankee. I like the versatility, I like that the length, I like that he’s a better hitting Jayson Nix, I like that hes killed the Yankees before…

      GREAT low risk move.

      I reserve the right to redact all of this if Cano signs elsewhere and this fucking squid is our starting 2B in April.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        I’m even ok with him as our starting 3B in case of ARod suspension.

        But yes, if this is instead of Cano, bad plan. I just don’t see it as being that.

        And there are worse emergency options. We saw them all last year.

  • Mark L.

    What is the word on his defense around the infield? Fangraphs suggests he is average, to a little below at 2B, but well-above at 3B (with a small sample size).

  • Isles

    The worst case scenario would have been to wait out Cano and still lose him. Then you lose the elite and your chance to sign any of the other top FAs.

    10/300 and Michael Jordan comparisons are just insane. Ells and McCann were very well paid, but not insanely beyond what their current market values were. What Cano is asking for is madness.

  • Preston

    Johnson, Ryan, Cervelli and Ichiro would be a really talented bench. I just as long as they aren’t starters.

    • Havok9120

      Yeah, I really like that bench.

  • Andrew Brotherton

    I’d like to see them get Eric Chavez as well.

    • Deathstroke Heathcott

      Meh pass. Too many lefties at this point and Chavez could be an injury headache. I’d rather go after Reynolds if we’re looking for another 3B/1B type.

      • MannyGeee

        Yes, but because I think Reynolds is better at this point in their careers.

  • LK

    “*Even better, he hit only 3 of his 16 homers with RISP, and another 4 with a runner on first. In other words, he produced runs from nothing, and additionally knocked in runners with singles, 21 of them, with ducks on the pond. That seems like an ideal distribution to me. Homers are always welcome, and HR with RISP can often mean many runs, but singling in scoring position runners while hitting bases empty homers does have a certain intuitive value.”

    The “intuitive appeal” of hitting your homers with the bases empty reminds me a lot of the intuition that told us homers were rally killers and slow players with high OBPs were clogging the bases.

  • D

    Cano should take a cue from Juan Gonzalez.

    Gonzalez turned down an eight year $140M contract offer from the Detroit Tigers because they sucked. If Seattle makes an eight year $200M offer from Seattle, Cano should turn down the offer because they suck, too.

    Cano isn’t gonna wind up like Gonzalez and get just a one year deal then play for five different teams over the next six years.

    ‘Say he takes $175M from the Yankees. That’s $25M a year for 7 years – nice money. If Roc Nation is worth their salt and Cano is as marketable as they think and say he is they will procure a $25M in endorsement for Cano so he earns $200M.

    It’s real simple folks:

    DOOR #1: Cano remains a Yankee for 7 years $175M. Because he’s a Yankee, he will make at least $25M in endorsements for $200M total earned. He would be a 16-year Yankee and could be a 17-20 year Yankeee if he plays with them for 1-4 more years after his contract is up. IF he plays say nine more years and has seven years like he’s had so far, he will be a retired number Hall Of Fame Yankee, especially if he collects an MVP or two and/or another World Series ring or two. Even just six typical Cano years with an MVP and two more World Series rings get him into the Hall or at the very least gets him into Monument Park.

    DOOR #2: Cano signs with Seattle for eight years and $200M. He is irrelevant and would make $0 in endorsements. He’s not making the postseason in 2014 or 2015 and would be lucky to make it once. His team is dead whenever Felix Hernandez gets hurts, sucks, or decides he wants out of Seattle. Hernandez will still be a bigger star than Cano who would be the star everyday/position player by default because they have no one else who is star-worthy (as nice a player as Kyle Seager is, he’s not a star, he’s a Poor Man’s David Wright and not even as he hasn’t posted a slashline like Wright yet.)

    • Baked McBride

      DOOR #3: Monty Hall shtupping his secretary. OOOOPS! Cut to commercial, cut to commercial!

  • W merante

    I can not believe cash would sign Johnson after what he did to Cervelli

    • joe

      that was elliot johnson

  • Get Phelps Up

    I’d much rather have Johnson at that price that Infante at what he’ll probably get.

  • nycsportzfan

    You gotta like the Johnson signings. THis is a guy who has all ready hit more then 15hrs in a season 6times in 8yrs, and is extremely versatile and came really cheaply for what he will do for us. Hes gonna be power near the bottom of the order. To be honest, i think its a bargain.

    • chris

      Now We Gotta Sign Infante!!! over .300 hitter who gets on base. right handed platoon bat to put into a lineup filled with lefties. Plays 3B, 2B, SS and corner outfield. Great insurance for A-Rod. The list goes on.

  • Darren

    Soriano played better defense than Ichiro last year.

  • Luke

    I think Cano is going to whoever gives him more years and $$. I don’t think he cares for legacy or anything like that…

  • rogue

    I love this signing too.

    Along with Elsbury and McCann, I can’t wait for Pitchers/Catchers to report.