Ken Rosenthal reported Thursday that the Braves and third baseman Chris Johnson agreed to a three year extension. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Braves Extend Chris Johnson

Thursday night we learned via Ken Rosenthal that the Braves have agreed to an extension with third baseman Chris Johnson.

Johnson arrived as an add on to the Justin Upton trade after Martin Prado became the piece Arizona wanted to make it happen.  Initially he was seen as a platoon player with Juan Francisco but CJ quickly claimed the job as his own. While Justin Upton started hot he cooled off after April leaving Johnson the only player to remain hot throughout the season. He even stayed in the race for the batting title until the final weeks.

2013 Splits April / March May June July August Sept / Oct
G 22 18 25 26 26 25
R 12 6 5 18 5 8
H 31 15 24 40 31 24
2B 7 3 6 7 6 5
HR 2 1 2 1 4 2
RBI 9 5 9 14 21 10
SO 19 16 17 21 22 21
BA .369 .283 .300 .381 .298 .273
OBP .391 .333 .374 .404 .321 .319
SLG .524 .396 .450 .476 .471 .398
OPS .915 .730 .824 .880 .792 .717
ISO .155 .113 .150 .067 .173 .125
BAbip .460 .389 .355 .470 .342 .338
sOPS+ 154 103 132 150 119 103

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/1/2014.

Getting there

It hasn’t been a smooth trip to acceptance as an everyday player for Johnson. A fourth round draft by Houston in 2006 he made his major league debut in 2009 appearing in 11 games. In 2010 he started out backing up Pedro Feliz but took over at third in June 22nd and put up a .295/.325/.457/.782 line from that point on. He started 2011 and in almost a reverse of 2013 his BABIP was just .317 driving his slash down to an ugly .251/.291/.378/.670. He rebounded in 2012 and in July the Diamondbacks acquired him from the Astros  to fill their third base void in return for Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss. His final line in 2012 is similar to the one we’re most likely to see from CJ; .281/.326/.451/.777.

The defensive metrics don’t like Johnson and no one will argue his place on a gold glove list. He isn’t horrible however, he makes the plays on balls he can reach, has become better at charging a bunt and his arm has been satisfactory. I know those aren’t glowing terms but they are the truth. The good news is that with Andrelton Simmons alongside him Johnson doesn’t need enormous range to the left and if he makes the routine plays and hits near  a .285/.335/.460 line that should be good enough.

Contract numbers have not yet been released (or leaked)  but the extension buys out CJ’s two remaining arbitration years and one of his free agent seasons with an option on another.  He joins Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward in getting an extension this year and there has been talk about adding Mike Minor as well.

That’s A Wrap

There will be those who decry the idea of extending him until he’s shown he can continue to hit pointing out that he had an exceptionally high BAbip (.394) last year, a slow start to 2014 and isn’t the slickest fielding third baseman in the league. There are several fallacies in that argument, primary among them is the assumption that a better all around option exists than Johnson and there isn’t.  Here’s the list of 2015 FA third basemen courtesy MLB Trade Rumors.

Yuniesky Betancourt (33)
Wilson Betemit (33)
Alberto Callaspo (32)
Eric Chavez (37)
Jack Hannahan (35) – $4MM club option with a $2MM buyout
Chase Headley (31)
Casey McGehee (32)
Donnie Murphy (32)
Nick Punto (37) – $2.75MM club/vesting option with a $250k buyout
Aramis Ramirez (37) – mutual option
Hanley Ramirez (31)
Pablo Sandoval (28)
Ty Wigginton (37)
Kevin Youkilis (36)

Nothing on that list excites me and anyone that might be better – Ramirez for example- would cost a lot more than Johnson and demand a contract covering declining years. You could also sign a guy like Asdrubal Cabrera and move him to third but he would be a very expensive signing if he would even agree to such a move at 29. I suspect Johnson’s contract will come in at an AAV around $8M in increasing increments; something like $6.5m, $7.75M, $9M.  In today’s market that’s a fair – and perhaps even a bit low – for a steady performer. Would I like Nolan Arenado at third? Sure but there’s no one like that available and we have nothing in the pipeline expected to step up. Braves number 8 prospect Victor Caratini is at low A and still learning third base.  The previous third base hope Edward Salcedo has dropped off the cliff at the plate and is error prone at third. Kyle Kubitza  has similar fielding issues and isn’t hitting either. Considering all this things it’s a completely understandable and sound decision to extend Johnson. Personally I like the way he’s adopted an inside out swing and stopped trying to be a power hitter, something he clearly isn’t.

The Braves lineup is unbalanced; too many strikeouts, not enough people just trying to get on base and when someone does get on no one seems to remember how to bunt or hit behind the runner;  extending CJ doesn’t fix that. Nor does it provide the home run power expected at that position but this lineup seems to find plenty of home runs for now.  CJ has started slowly but the inside out swing that helped him take pitches to right when needed last year seemed to be returning last night and that’s a good sign. He fits well with the Braves now and it makes sense to keep him around.

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