Rays reach agreement with Johnson
Free agent spent last season playing baseball in Japan
The Rays reached agreement on a one-year deal worth about $500,000 with first baseman Dan Johnson on Monday, putting their 40-man roster at 37 players.
Johnson, who was with the Rays in 2008 and contributed one of the most memorable moments of that season despite his short stint with the big league club, spent the '09 season playing for the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan, for whom he batted .215 with 24 homers and 57 RBIs in 117 games.
While there, he played 50-60 of his games at third base, a position he spent a little bit of time at during his 2008 stint in Triple-A Durham but was still pretty foreign to him. That means Johnson, also an outfielder, could now provide depth for the Rays at both the infield and outfield corners, either at the Major or Minor League level.
"In Japan, you get broken in real quick [at third base] because there's so many bunts and trick plays," Johnson said in a phone interview on Monday afternoon, shortly after completing his physical. "But I think it was kind of good for me because I got so much work over there that I actually started feeling pretty comfortable over there."
The 30-year-old left-handed hitter was originally a seventh-round pick by the Athletics in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft and spent his first seven seasons of professional baseball with them. He was then claimed off waivers by the Rays in April of '08 and went on to appear in 10 regular-season games for Tampa Bay, going 5-for-25.
While appearing in 113 games for the Rays' Triple-A affiliate, Johnson was named Player of the Year for the Durham Bulls when he batted .307 with 25 homers and 83 RBIs. He was then called up in September of 2008 and had one of the most famous moments during Tampa Bay's run to a World Series berth, hitting a pinch-hit, game-tying home run off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning at Fenway Park on Sept. 9, during an eventual 5-4 win for the Rays.
"I'm never going to forget that moment," Johnson said. "That's my career highlight. For as long as I played, that still ranks up there as No. 1, I'd say."
In parts of four seasons in the big leagues, Johnson sports a .248 batting average with a .343 on-base percentage, .420 slugging percentage and 44 homers in 328 games. He saw his most action in 2007, when he hit .236 with 18 homers and 62 RBIs.
Johnson said a few other Major League teams were interested in his services, and a return to Japan was also on the table, but he decided to return to the Rays because of "the familiarity with it" and "having the opportunity to go back with them, it just made sense to me."
"As soon as [my agent] mentioned that the Rays were interested, I was like, 'That really sparks my interest, because I know a lot about them from being there,'" Johnson added.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.