Is Reed Johnson Your New Backup Outfielder?

Lots of activity on the rumor front today regarding free agent outfielder, Reed Johnson, with Ken Rosenthal first tweeting that the Dodgers are “close” and then adding that the deal may actually be already done. We’ve been talking a lot about backup outfielders around here lately, and you may have noticed that Johnson’s name didn’t come up in my post about available players earlier this week. That’d be because Johnson is a righty hitter, which goes against everything we’d been hearing that the Dodgers were looking for a lefty bat. That could have big repercussions on the rest of the roster, but more on that in a second.

Johnson is a 33-year-old native of Riverside who’s spent the last seven seasons in the bigs with the Blue Jays (five) and the Cubs (two). He’s got a reputation as having some speed, though he’s stolen just 35 bases in his career. Johnson had a career year as Toronto’s everyday left fielder in 2006 (.319/.390/.479) followed by a brutal year in 2007 (.236/.305/.320),  which led to his release by Toronto and two average-ish years in Chicago as a 4th outfielder (mainly in center) and defensive replacement.

For his career, Johnson has a .282/.344/.411 line, for a 95 OPS+. Despite being a guy with a reputation as a quality defender, UZR has him as below average in both center and right, though above average in left.

I’m somewhat unimpressed with Johnson on the whole, especially coming off a broken foot which ruined his 2009. That said, the Dodger outfield has two big needs. First, they need someone who can be a plus defender in left to spot for Manny, which Johnson clearly can. Second, though few people want to admit it, they need someone who can replace Andre Ethier against lefties, because Ethier is useless against fellow southpaws. Johnson fits that role perfectly – for this career, he’s lousy against righties (.707 OPS), but is just fine against lefties (.841 OPS). That split was even more pronounced in 2009. If you’ve got lefty-killers Manny and Kemp, and replace Ethier with Johnson, that’s an outfield lefties should be terrified of.

So assuming that the money isn’t big and the term is just one year, I’m okay with this idea. Sure, I’d like to see Xavier Paul just like the rest of you, but I understand that he might need playing time in the minors more than anything after how much time he missed in 2009 due to injuries.

The real question is, what does this do to the rest of the bench? Sure, it’s possible that a 5th outfielder like Paul or Jason Repko could be kept, but with Jamey Carroll and Casey Blake each having past outfield experience in a pinch, I find that unlikely. In particular for Repko, this seems to be a death blow, since Johnson does everything Repko does, and does it a little better. No, the real impact of Reed Johnson (should this signing actually occur, of course), is probably going to be felt by Blake DeWitt and Doug Mientkiewicz.

Going with Johnson rather than a lefty bat means the Dodger bench is likely to be extremely righty-heavy, as Johnson, Brad Ausmus, Carroll, and Ronnie Belliard all bat from that side. Assuming that Paul is unlikely to break camp with the team, the Dodgers will need at least one lefty bat, but much of this depends on DeWitt. If he breaks camp as the starting second baseman, then Mientkiewicz would seem to have the edge on the fifth and final bench role – however, that would then mean that the Dodgers are comfortable with Carroll and/or DeWitt as the backup shortstops. If DeWitt doesn’t win the job, he’s likely to go back to AAA rather than ride the bench. That would allow the Dodgers room to carry both Mientkiewicz and a backup shortstop like Nick Green or Chin-Lung Hu, but it would also sentence them to a Belliard/Carroll situation at second base.

Either way, it should be interesting to see how the bench shakes out. And due to his outstanding splits against lefties to spell Ethier, I’d be fine with seeing Johnson added to it.

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  1. [...] As I said yesterday when the rumors first came down, I don’t mind Johnson as a gloveman for Manny who can also spot for Ethier against lefties. It just remains to be seen whether what Johnson brings to the table makes up for what could be seen as the questionable decision to add yet another righty bat. [...]

  2. [...] time was that the Dodgers were looking for a left-handed backup outfielder. Still, for what he was, I was okay with it: I’m somewhat unimpressed with Johnson on the whole, especially coming off a broken foot which [...]