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Although the Blue Jays don't currently have a gaping hole up the middle of the infield, they could very well be short a second baseman come this offseason.
Things are arguably still in the honeymoon phase with Kelly Johnson. At the moment, he's one of the team's best hitters, and he's making the days of Aaron Hill seem like a distant memory. And I believe that's partially why now is the time to strike and re-sign him to a new contract.
Not that Johnson would really sign a "hometown discount" so to speak, but the Blue Jays could probably get him to sign for less money and a shorter duration now rather than wait until the end of the season.
It might seem a little premature to sign Kelly Johnson to a contract extension so early into the season, but the pool of prospective free agent second baseman is becoming shallower by the week. Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler are the latest players off the market, and so the options are becoming increasingly limited.
Phillips' $72.5 million dollar contract and Kinsler's $75 million dollar deal is now a yardstick for what Kelly Johnson could potentially fetch on the open market.
If Kelly Johnson goes the entire season and doesn't receive a multi-year deal from the Blue Jays, I think he's basically as good as gone. And if they can't get KJ to sign on the dotted line before the trade deadline, then they might as well trade him.
The Blue Jays could still scoop a Type A pick for Kelly Johnson, but with all the changes to the CBA and Elias Rankings, they would now have to offer him a one-year contract the average sum of the Top 125 paid players in MLB (around $12 million).
So if the Blue Jays would be willing to offer Kelly Johnson $12 million on a one-year deal, they would almost certainly have to offer him more than that per year on a multi-year contract to keep him in Toronto. I'm just venturing a guess at $15 million per for 3-4 years.
Again, that's just me pulled a number out of the air, but the dollar amount is merely arbitrary. The real question is whether the Blue Jays see Kelly Johnson 3-4 years down the road. With all the recent changes to the CBA, it's tough to say how salary negotiations would go down with a Type A free agent.
At an annual salary of $15 million, Kelly Johnson would be making more than top-tier second baseman like Brandon Phillips and Dustin Pedroia. This isn't a knock on KJ, but if the Blue Jays are going to spend that kind of money, they better be getting an elite second baseman.
All this reinforces how shallow the pool is for elite second baseman. And in this instance and with the new CBA, the player holds the upper hand and not the team. The only way for the Blue Jays to gain an edge here is to re-sign Kelly Johnson as soon as possible.
In a way, the Blue Jays are in a similar position with Kelly Johnson now as they were with Jose Bautista last year. It's a huge risk to put that kind of money up front, but I think it's better than the alternative; waiting until the end of the season and then possibly shelling out even more after they put up a career year.
There is another alternative, and that's to fill the position internally. There was some talk during Spring Training about the possibility of shifting either Yunel Escobar or Adeiny Hechavarria over to second base.
I don't know what the transition is like from playing shortstop to second base, but I can't image it's very easy. And not something I could see the Blue Jays just springing on Escobar or Hechavarria in the offseason, and then only giving them Spring Training to get acclimatized to the new position.
So this is the conundrum the Blue Jays are left with at second base; do they sign Kelly Johnson to a multi-year contract extension at what will likely be a top-tier salary? Or do they let him walk, collect the compensatory pick, and fill the void some other way?
While the latter option is the most financially attractive option, perhaps it's not the best overall strategy for the team. The Blue Jays don't necessarily need to have premium players at every single position, but they certainly shouldn't keep the position in limbo or fill the void with a replacement level player.
It's a risky venture, but I think it's better to bank on Kelly Johnson than risk the alternative.