clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Beware Chris Johnson, rumored Giants third base target

He had a pair of good seasons in the past. But beware.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres didn't give up much for Justin Upton. It was for a year, sure, and there was a former #7-overall pick involved. The Braves think they might have picked up their starting second baseman. I'm assuming the Braves were being jerks and asking for far more from the Giants, honing in on specific players on the Padres for whom the Giants didn't have direct analogs. So it goes.

Except I think the Giants could have had Upton for a reasonable price, now. All it would have taken is a prospect or two, and absorbing the entire contract of the newly awful Chris Johnson. Considering what the Padres gave up without worrying about Johnson's contract, it seems realistic. The Giants didn't engage, though, possibly because Johnson is bad, his contract is bad, and the Braves should feel bad.

What if the Braves ate half of that contract? What if they ate three-quarters of it? Would they be interested? This rumor suggests ... maybe:

Let's start with the first question: If Chris Johnson were free -- not even costing the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if the Braves would put up personally -- should the Giants be interested?

Maybe. Probably not, though. Here's the career of Johnson, in easily digestible bites:

Phase 1
In which Johnson is a non-prospect for the Astros (career minor-league OPS of .751), but gets called up because they were one of the worst teams of the last 50 years.

Phase 2
In which Johnson hits a little in 341 at-bats when he's 25, giving the Astros a little hope.

Phase 3
In which Johnson is as bad as his minor-league numbers suggest, and he's moved to the Braves

Phase 4
In which Johnson has the season of his life, hitting .321/.358/.457 for the Braves, and they reward him with a three year, $23.5 million contract extension.

Phase 5
In which Johnson is as bad as his minor-league numbers suggest, and the Braves have buyer's remorse.

In all five phases, Johnson exhibited dreadful plate discipline, striking out about four to eight times more than he walked.

In all five phases, Johnson was a poor defender -- one of the worst third basemen in the league, according to advanced metrics.

He is Pedro Feliz without the power or defense, but for one thing: His batting average. He hit .321 for the Braves. He can't run, field, or hit for power, but if he hits .321 with more than a few doubles, he can be valuable. So you look for the obvious culprit:

Batting average on balls in play
2010: .387
2011: .317
2012: .354
2013: .394
2014: .345

If you believe that Johnson merely has one of the best averages on balls in play in recent history, he's pretty bad. If you believe he's one of the few players in history who could get close to .400 by skill alone, he can be rather valuable.

If you think Johnson is Rod Carew, Ichiro, or Derek Jeter, he might be for you. If you're skeptical that his 2013 was an aberration, he offers almost nothing in a baseball context. No defense. No power. No speed. If he isn't hitting for average, he is not valuable. Those are scary players to count on.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's not go crazy. I'd give Johnson a 20-percent chance of being average next year. I'd give Arias far less than that. Swap in Duffy's name for Arias, and maybe you have something.

Now that's if Johnson were free. Like, here. Take him. That probably wouldn't happen. The Giants would absorb some salary. They would give up a token prospect, at least.

I'm not sure if this is a worse rumor than Ervin Santana -- Santana cost twice as much and a draft pick, but at least he was a good bet to be average -- but it's one of my least favorite rumors of the offseason. No thanks to Chris Johnson, especially if he isn't the price of admission for a year of Justin Upton.