D-backs secure infielder Johnson
With one-year deal, veteran likely to start at second base
PHOENIX -- Kelly Johnson is finally an Arizona Diamondback.
On Wednesday, the free agent inked a one-year deal with the D-backs that will pay him $2.35 million in 2010.
The D-backs had been involved in on-again, off-again trade discussions with the Braves about Johnson since Josh Byrnes became Arizona's GM in October 2005.
"They made it known to me that they had tried to acquire me a few different times, and they've always liked me," Johnson said.
Apparently, the feeling was mutual.
"It's just a place I've always liked," Johnson said of the Phoenix area. "As far as the city goes, it's one of the top for me. Just with the team, we've got guys all over the field that are young, athletic, tons of talent. It's one of the places that you come in and you did not want to face the guys that were on the mound."
While he said that more than 10 teams were interested in him, Johnson was drawn to the D-backs because of the opportunity to play second base as well as the club's potential to rebound from a poor 2009.
"I know last year was a down year and guys were hurt," Johnson said. "[Brandon] Webb was hurt, and that goes a long ways. The promise going up and going forward in 2010 is huge. I certainly want to get back on track myself. It was just a perfect fit for me."
Johnson hit .224 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 106 games for the Braves last season and was not offered arbitration earlier this month, becoming a free agent.
Tendinitis in his right wrist bothered Johnson last year and forced him to the disabled list from July 3-23.
"The wrist thing definitely hampered me," Johnson said. "Looking back, I started developing some bad habits, mechanically doing some things that were keeping me from being the best I could be and being the guy I was a couple of years before that. I think I'm addressing them now in the offseason. I think I've got a good plan."
The D-backs are counting on Johnson being more like the player he was in 2007 and '08, when he had an OPS+ (on-base plus slugging adjusted for ballpark) of 116 and 109, with 100 being league average.
"We believe Kelly will return to form after a down 2009 season," Byrnes said. "He has a strong track record of hitting. He will help lengthen our lineup."
Advanced metrics like batting average on balls put in play indicate there's reason to believe Johnson is an excellent candidate for a rebound season after struggling last year.
"For sure, I look at it like a minor stumble and not anything that is deteriorating or going down," Johnson said of his 2009 season. "I'm very confident that I'm going to bounce back and be right where I want to be."
If Johnson gets the starting nod at second, which seems likely, the D-backs could shift Tony Abreu into a utility-infield role. That would make infielder Augie Ojeda expendable. The team learned during the Winter Meetings that there is interest in Ojeda, so moving him would probably not be a problem.
The D-backs could also elect to keep Ojeda initially and give Abreu more seasoning at the Triple-A level.
"I have a lot of confidence," Johnson said. "I know I had a tough year, but the player I see myself as and where I see myself as the best fit on a club is second base. I know I'm more of an offensive player, despite the year that I had, and I think I'm most valuable there. What I think I can bring to the Diamondbacks is offense, and I'm going to get better defensively."
The signing of Johnson appears to put the D-backs at the budget they set going into the offseason, with an expected payroll north of $75 million when all is said and done. The club could wind up with some wiggle room if it was able to trade Chris Snyder and the $4.75 million he is owed next season. The D-backs had agreed to trade Snyder to Toronto earlier this offseason in exchange for first baseman Lyle Overbay, but the Blue Jays backed out of the deal due to concerns about Snyder's surgically repaired back.
The D-backs will also continue to monitor the free-agent market to see if the price falls for a player who might interest them as Spring Training approaches. In that case, they may be willing to exceed their budget.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.