Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
After missing out on the postseason for the first time since 2008, the Yankees made a splash in free agency. They signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Masahiro Tanaka to lavish deals and while these moves make sense for right now, they could hurt them towards the end. With the exception of Tanaka, all three players they acquired are at or over the age of 30 and are destined to wind up just like Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia – meaning they all will inevitably regress as the years go by and the Yankees will be shooting themselves in the foot for the amount of money they allocated.
Maybe these were not the most brilliantly executed moves, however, the Yankees did make one move in the offseason that seems to be rather ingenious, and that would be the signing of Kelly Johnson.
Johnson, 32, signed a one-year, $3 million dollar deal with the Yankees in early December. It was a move that went under-the-radar – one nobody bestowed much attention upon. Sure, it was a nice addition bolstering their infield depth but will it have any influence on the Yankees’ 2014 playoff aspirations? Yes, it will, and Johnson projects to have the highest cost per win on the Yankees’ roster.
The left-handed hitter brings a versatile game to the table and has the ability to play second base, third base, left field, and given the opportunity he could probably hold his own at shortstop or right field. The Bronx Bombers need someone like this, someone like a Ben Zobrist who can play at any position on any given day to elicit the maximum value out of the starting 9. The Yankees are very thin on infield depth, coupled with injury-prone, aging players such as Teixeira, Jeter and Brian Roberts. Having Johnson’s adaptability should come in handy throughout the 2014 season.
Johnson is the epitome of average. He owns a career .253/.335/.427 slash line, supplying above average on-base skills and power. He was not quite as potent in 2013, churning a .235/.305/.410 clip, albeit his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was unsustainable at .276 and should normalize closer to his career .305 BABIP this season. Defensive metrics grade Johnson as a decent fielder, compiling 3 DRS (defensive runs saved) and a 1.4 UZR (ultimate zone rating). Johnson has also shown his ability to beat you on the base paths, swiping 50 bags over the past four seasons.
His value on the base paths and in the field should continue at the pace it is at, however, his offensive numbers should spike, like any left-handed hitter in the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. His offense which was once mediocre may translate into All-Star level. In 2010, when Kelly was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he slugged an impressive .284/.370/.496 mark, complemented by an All-Star level 5.4 WAR. Of course, Chase Field is another notorious hitter’s park.
The Yankees overpaid for perennial All-Star talent when they may have found one for just $3 million dollars – spare change for a rich Yankees organization. In a day in age where advanced metrics are utilized by almost every team in Major League Baseball, it is apparent the Yankees found a niche on the market.