Kelly Johnson to Arizona

With a thousand apologies to Rockstarr, a friend of mine who says he "know[s] some people around the Valley" has told me that the Kelly Johnson to Arizona deal is completed, a one-year $2M deal, with the D-Backs having arbitration control of Johnson for 2011 as well.  An official announcement to come soon.  Not sure if I should technically be putting this out there since it has yet to be announced, but all indications from him are that this is done, and since we're not the organization (last time I checked), I decided to go for it.  :-)  There's certainly some lineup and position shuffling to be done now, but most projection systems show Johnson at $2M to be a bargain.

[Update by Jim] The signing is now largely confirmed by Steve Gilbert and Nick Piecoro. Gilbert says "There are still some final details to be worked out, and a physical to be taken", with the deal for one year at a little more than $2 million. Piecoro also agrees that "If the deal goes through, the Diamondbacks would control his rights as an arbitration-eligible player for 2011 as well," effectively giving the team an option for that season as well. More analysis and thoughts on the new arrival after the jump.

[Updated update] The deal has been closed, with a one-year, $2.35m contract for Johnson.

Johnson was a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2000 by Atlanta, going overall at #38. In parts of four seasons with the Braves, he has a line of .264/.346/.430, for an overall OPS+ of 103. However, 2009 was a greatly disappointing year for Johnson: his line dropped to .224/.303/.389, though this was somewhat propelled by a BABIP of .247, compared to a career figure of .313. Still, it was enough, combined with the rise of Martin Prado, to cause the Braves to non-tender an offer to the 27-year old. This allowed him to enter the free-agent marketplace, and Arizona rapidly tendered their offer.

There's a good article on what caused Johnson to struggle in 2009. Brief summary:

What is really interesting is that while KJ cut down his swing to make more contact, he also wayyyyyy expanded his strike zone -- swinging at far more pitches outside the zone. So what happens if you cut down your swing to be sure you make contact, and then start swinging at pitchers' pitches?   Well, you're going to roll over a lot of grounders to the shortstop and second baseman.  KJ doesn't have the speed to slap the ball around.  He's going to run a lousy BABIP when he's arm-swinging at pitchers' pitches.

The writer concludes, "KJ looks like a pretty serious reclamation project to me... The ideal diagnosis would be, KJ (1) opened up his strike zone, swinging at sucker pitches, and THEN (2) cut down his swing in self-defense, following the lousy results.  If so, then simply getting him to cut down the strike zone, could naturally restore his aggressiveness." Will Arizona be able to do that? I guess we'll see in the coming season.

The signing would create a log-jam on the roster with regard to the infield, with Johnson now joing Tony Abreu, Ryan Roberts, Augie Ojeda and Rusty Ryal as players who could conceivably play second-base. It certainly yanks the carpet out from under Roberts, who performed very well at the position after the trade of Felipe Lopez last season. He may shift into more of a utility role, though it's hard to see how there could be enough at-bats for both him and Abreu, even if Roberts gets some time in the outfield.

The odd man out, however, appears to be the recently-signed Augie Ojeda. Though Gilbert holds out some hope for Rockkstarr12, saying, "The D-backs could also elect to keep Ojeda initially and give Abreu more seasoning at the Triple-A level." However, it seems more likely that, if the right offer comes along - and there has already apparently been interest in Ojeda, with Texas making inquiries during the winter meetings - that the Littlest Ballplayer's time in Arizona is coming towards its end.

Taking a look at the various projections to date, we have the ever-optimistic Bill James at .274/.354/.445 (.799 OPS_ and Chone coming in at .262 /.338/.428 (.766 OPS), wuth the fan projection over at fangraphs.com came in at .270/.344/.421 (also a .766 OPS). None of these projections take into account park factors at this point, but last year, Roberts' .783 was an OPS+ of 100, so it seems fair to say that the projections, after park adjustment. likely expect Johnson to be at league average or somewhat better.

However, between Felipe Lopez and Roberts, the overall OPS we got from the position was .820 - it was a position of some strength offensively for Arizona - so current expectations seem somewhat below that. Johnson's glove isn't anything much to write home about either, by most reports. In his career, he has a UZR/150 rating of -7.4.  Despite this, fangraphs.com fan projections still currently have Johnson valued at 1.9 Wins Above Replacement. If he can perform up to that level, it would be a solid performance from a two million dollar player. As you imagine, the word "if" is the operative one.

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