After a disappointing season with Atlanta, 27 year old 2B Kelly Johnson was non-tendered and hit the market. In a deal made official on Wednesday, Arizona added Johnson for one year and $2.35M, who will become the Diamondbacks starting 2B in 2010, replacing Felipe Lopez, who was traded to Milwaukee before the 2009 trading deadline.
Johnson’s career was off to a great start with Atlanta. In his first three seasons in the majors, Johnson posted wRC+ numbers of 99, 121, and 116, and even despite poor defense at 2B, Johnson compiled 7 WAR in those first 3 seasons.
Johnson fell off a cliff in 2009, however. His defensive numbers rose to average for the first time in his career, but his wRC+ fell to a putrid 86, leading to his first season below 1.0 WAR. With a .224/.303/.389 triple slash line, GM Frank Wren had enough, and the team did not tender a contract to Johnson. Said contract would likely have garnered in the 3-4 million dollar range, given Johnson’s 2009 salary of 2.85M, his second year arbitration status, and his poor 2010 season.
That said, Johnson is a perfect breakout candidate. We saw nothing in his plate discipline or isolated power numbers to suggest that 2009 was anything more than a product of poor luck on balls in play. After 2007 and 2008 years with BABIPs above .330, regression (and more) hit Johnson in the worst way. His BABIP nosedived all the way to .249, leading to the 50 point AVG and OBP drop and 80 point SLG drop that resulted in the worst season of his career.
With this in mind, it is much more likely to see a year with production akin to 2008 – .346 wOBA, 112 wRC+ – than 2009. Especially if Johnson’s UZR numbers are truly an indication of increased defensive skills, Johnson could approach the 3 WAR level, if not surpass it – a number that compares very favorably with Mark DeRosa, who signed with the Giants for leaving the D’Backs with a great asset for not only 2010 but also 2011, Johnson’s third year of arbitration.
What we see here with this move is Arizona taking advantage of the largest pool of talented arbitration eligible players in recent memory that has resulted from the downturn in the economy. Not only do the Diamondbacks pick up a talented player with a high chance of rebound for 2010, they also pick him up at a below-market rate in 2011. We also saw this with the Nationals signing of Matt Capps. One of the major stories from this offseason could be the development of this market. We do know one thing: the Diamondbacks played it perfectly with their addition of Johnson.
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