Johnson's focus on future with Blue Jays
Back with Toronto, second baseman eager to produce in '12
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- With Kelly Johnson's offseason of uncertainty in his rearview mirror, the veteran second baseman can shift gears and focus on his first full season in a Blue Jays' uniform.
The 29-year-old is coming off his first experience as a free agent, and while the process can be enjoyable for the likes of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, for most players, it's more stressful than anything else.
That was the case for Johnson, who knows he'll be in Toronto for at least one more year and is glad the entire process is over for the time being.
"When you're a free agent, it's the first time you're not with anybody," Johnson said. "The season ends, and you're done. It's exciting, but it's also kind of stressful, because I'm the kind of guy that likes to know where he's going to be ahead of time and have all of the details ironed out before I go to Spring Training.
"It was different -- it was a whole different experience, having to wait around and see how it unfolded."
Johnson joined the Blue Jays last August in a trade for veterans Aaron Hill and John McDonald. The month and a half in Toronto was meant to give the club a first-hand opportunity to evaluate a player who had long been a favorite of general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
There was a strong possibility from the start, though, that Johnson was only going to be a short-term rental. He projected to be a Type-A free agent, and initially, he had the potential to net Toronto a pair of selections in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Johnson was slated to be one of the top free agents at second base, but that Type-A status seemed to scare off other teams that were hesitant to part with a first-round pick as compensation for his services. The lucrative multiyear contracts never surfaced, and while there was still plenty of interest around the league, it wasn't as much as originally anticipated.
Major League Baseball eventually opted to modify Johnson's Type-A status as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but it was too late. Teams had already filled their needs elsewhere, and Johnson fell into the Blue Jays' lap by opting to accept arbitration.
Despite interest on short-term contracts from other teams, the decision to come back to Toronto was relatively easy for Johnson.
"I knew it was a great option for sure, because it's not very many times you get to have a chance at a team that's going to be as good as this one, going to have an opening, going to want you back and want you to be a part of it," Johnson said. "I was very humbled by that and it feels good to be wanted back. Obviously there was still a chance to look at what options there would be there, and I think you owe it to yourself to see what's there and by far and away it was the best option.
"I'm very happy to be here, I can't be more excited -- I can't be more excited to have this coaching staff for the spring and hopefully for a full season and beyond, and play with these guys again for a longer time."
Johnson and the Blue Jays settled on a one-year contract worth $6.375 million to avoid arbitration. He will become a free agent once again at the end of the season, but Anthopoulos hasn't ruled out the possibility of inking Johnson to a multiyear contract.
That will depend on how well Johnson produces this season. The sixth-year player will be looking to bounce back after an inconsistent campaign split between Arizona and Toronto.
Johnson hit .222 -- the lowest mark of his career -- while posting 21 homers and 58 RBIs in 147 games, which was a far cry from a stellar effort in 2010, when he hit .284 with 26 home runs and 71 RBIs.
"The game was just moving really fast, and I wasn't slowing it down," Johnson said, reflecting back. "The whole season was a constant struggle to try and slow everything down. Sometimes this game will get you and 85 mph looks like 105, and it seems like every ball is hit at you when you're not ready. There's always something that can humble you. I just wanted to slow everything down [this offseason] and be a little more focused on everything that I'm doing.
"We're all going to have struggles, ups and downs, things like that, but for where I was in my career, the game shouldn't feel like it was happening so fast for that period of time. It will do that, it gets you -- you just have to put it behind you and learn from it."
Johnson is going through Spring Training with the Blue Jays for the first time. That should provide more comfort not only with his teammates, but with the coaching staff.
The resident of Atlanta will have more time to work with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, who was frequently praised toward the end of the year by the second baseman. With Murphy's help, Johnson managed to turn a corner during the final two weeks of the season and hit .340 with five RBIs and five extra-base hits in the last 14 games.
Johnson should receive plenty of opportunity to continue that production in 2012. Manager John Farrell recently said that he envisioned Johnson as the club's No. 2 hitter, because his career on-base percentage of .343 was an ideal fit in front of Jose Bautista and Adam Lind in the heart of Toronto's order.
It doesn't matter to Johnson where he fits into the lineup, though, he just wants to get back to his previous form and provide the Blue Jays with the type of offensive spark required to make an impact in the always competitive American League East.
"I'm not going to worry about where and when," Johnson said when asked if he liked the idea of hitting No. 2. "I just want to be in there, I want to perform enough to be in there every day and I want to focused on one pitch and one at-bat. Just win each at-bat as much as possible and do what I can right there and let the rest of it take care of itself.
"I'm not going to worry about where my name is written in the lineup, and I'm not going to worry about anything. I think if I can do that, the skills and the numbers will put me in a position to help this team win."