Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Kelly Johnson Conundrum

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Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
To sign Kelly Johnson to a contract extension or to let him walk? That is the question.

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.

15 comments:

  1. Very tough spot for the club. My head says overpaying KJ to stay just because the other players available may not be as good is a terrible idea (it's the lurking-at-the-bar-at-closing-time of sports contracts), but my heart says he's been great and should be a Blue Jay forever. Glad it's not my decision to make.

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    1. It's really a catch 22, isn't it? Unless there's some plan behind the scenes that AA isn't telling us (which is a very likely scenario), I'd think that signing Johnson to at least one more year is necessary.

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  2. I wonder how the situation will develop with Hech in Vegas, how much time will he be getting at second. There was talk in spring training of him spending some time at 2B "in case of injury", so Hech might already be practicing. In that case he would have this whole season of practice and some game time plus spring training if they decide to move him over.

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    1. They could very well be seasoning Hech to move to 2B. I'd imagine a mid-season move might not be too bad, I'd just hate for the Blue Jays to throw him into the fire at Spring Training camp and hope he doesn't swims rather than sinks at 2B.

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  3. This definitely is a tough one. Another problem is that second basemen often go downhill quick in their early thirties, and I think KJ is 30 this year. So that's another reason I'd be hesitant to extend long term, coupled with the risk that he's merely good and not elite and you're paying him 12+ mill per. If they can get a two year deal done that isn't very expensive I'd say go for it. If not let him walk and either use Hech there next year or swing some kind of trade.

    -BlueJayWay

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  4. I would bet my left nut (it does not work that well anyways)...the jays do not re-sign KJ. It will be hech or yunel playing there. The money saved will go into the rotation (I hope).

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  5. If the argument is that the 2B market is thin this coming winter, and that KJ's value will be high compared to the agents on the market, what do we have to lose by resigning him? Hech might or might not be ready. Resigning KJ keeps a premium option available while creating a great trade chip if we don't need him.

    Of course, what we get back for him would depend on the performance/dollar ratio on the extension...

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    1. What do we have to lose? "Only" money! They would undoubtedly have to overpay, but I think that option better than bringing up Hech when he clearly isn't ready to make the leap to the Majors just yet.

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  6. seriously - and i don't mean this in an offensive way - but have you lost your mind??? $15mm per year for KELLY JOHNSON?? This is a no-brainer. He's gone. He's not even worth the $5mm he's making this year or whatever it is. Make him the one-year offer for $12mm to grab the Type A MAYBE but that's it. Sheesh.

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    1. I know it sounds crazy .... $12 million or more is a hell of a lot to pay for Kelly Johnson. If the Blue Jays could get away with paying him less, I'm sure they would.

      But if they don't offer up the cash, I'm sure there are a bevy of other teams out there that would be willing to pay him that much (probably even more). A one-year deal with an option would be ideal, but I think the likelihood of that happening is next to nil.

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    2. "But if they don't offer up the cash, I'm sure there are a bevy of other teams out there that would be willing to pay him that much (probably even more)."

      Seriously??? Didn't he accept arb this off season because no one offered a multi year deal? So now after 10 or so games teams will be lining up to sign him for over 12 mil per flippin season!!! Come on man. A 2 year deal at 8mm per season is an overpay and you want to nearly double or tripple that? Not realistic in any sense.

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  7. This article is a joke, if Brandon Phillips got 12 million per there is 0 chance Kelly Johnson gets 15 million. At best he's looking at 3 or 4 years at 8 million per.

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    1. I'd say it's more of just an arbitrary number ... the exact dollar figure is almost irrelevant. The real question is whether the Blue Jays want are willing to commit to Kelly Johnson long term (whatever that amount might me).

      With all the changes to the CBA, who knows what could happen. This coming offseason will be the first one with all the new rules and stipulations regarding Elias rankings, etc.

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  8. "the exact dollar figure is almost irrelevant."

    Is there ever a deal that the money is not relevant? In any profession?

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  9. If he keeps hitting the way he is and continues his strong play in the field by the all star break then repost this article.
    What's the logic in paying him top end second basemen money after 12 games? He's not a top end second basemen and by the all star break that will most likely be more evident.(I hope I'm wrong)

    I get that we don't want a vacancy at second base next year But I'd rather have a mediocre second basemen than spending money on more offense instead of the pitching we need.

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