One of the D’backs players that had to be questioning the organization’s off-season moves was third baseman Chris Johnson. Johnson was acquired from Houston last season on July 29th in a trade that sent minor leaguers Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss to the Astros. The feeling was that Johnson was acquired to be Arizona’s third baseman of the future, but with the additions of Eric Chavez and Eric Hinske this off-season and others on the roster that can play third base like Willie Bloomquist, Johnson had to see that his at-bats would be reduced and his playing time could be diminished.
The 28 year-old Johnson played well for the D’backs last season after coming over from Houston. In 44 games with Arizona, Johnson hit .286 with 7 home runs and 35 RBI’s. His season statistics were also decent after a good start in Houston, hitting .281 with 15 home runs and 76 RBI’s in 136 games combined with both teams. While his strikeouts were high (132 in 528 at-bats), it was only Johnson’s 2nd full season in the big leagues and that can be corrected with time and experience. He is a career .276 hitter in his four seasons and his 162 game average over that stretch equates to a player who will hit .280 with 15 home runs and 80 RBI’s if given the playing time to do so.
One knock on Johnson was his numbers against left-handed pitchers, which is odd for a right-handed hitter. Johnson’s average and power numbers were far superior against right-handed pitching (.295, 11 HR, 58 RBI’s) last season. He struggled mightily against left-handers (.245, 4 HR, 18 RBI’s). If the D’backs were thinking about platooning him and playing him against right-handed pitchers, I could understand if they signed a third baseman who could hit left-handed pitching. Herein lies the problem.
The conundrum here is that new D’backs acquisition Eric Chavez is a left-handed hitter who also struggles against left-handed pitching (.152, 0 HR, 3 RBI’s vs. left handed pitching in 2012). He tears up right handed hurlers, mashing at a .298 clip with 16 HR and 34 RBI’s in 108 games with New York last season. The plan at third base doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point.
The other knock on Johnson is his defense. In his four seasons, Johnson’s fielding percentage is a .931. This is a little below average for a third baseman in today’s game. While he showed glimpses of improvement (.939 in 2012), this has to be seen as a weakness when looking at a D’backs team that struggled to produce runs last season.
Chavez on the other hand has won six Gold Gloves at third base and has a career fielding percentage almost 30 points higher than Johnson for his career (.969 over 14 seasons). If Johnson is seen as a liability at third from a defensive standpoint, it could cut further into his playing time. He will need to improve drastically to lock down more playing time at that position.
The one truly attractive thing about Johnson at this point for Arizona is his salary. He only made $495,000 last season and his pre-arbitration eligible heading into this season. This makes his production very valuable to the D’backs depending on how much he is deemed to be paid after his arbitration hearing. If the D’backs can lock him up to a multi-year deal in the range of $2 million a year, this could be a very good deal if they plan to play him as the regular third baseman.
Johnson needs the playing time to prove that he is the every day guy at the hot corner. If given that time, I feel he will produce and be a vital cog to the success of this year’s team.