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 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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Tags: Atlanta Braves

  • carpengui

    I agree: this is about the “bird in the hand”… and also the lack of available birds elsewhere.

    Salcedo was to be the next big thing (for multiple years), but he simply has not improved: .211 at AAA now with 7 errors already in 23 games. Kubitza may have reached the point (AA) at which his approach just doesn’t work (i.e., they throw strikes in AA; he’s batting .221).

    Once Simmons signed his extension, that effectively blocked SS Jose Peraza. I thought that the organization might try him at third base, but he has played almost exclusively at second base so far this year. Interesting. Oh, and he’s been on a tear lately: up to .343 with two triples. But he’s still just 20 y.o. in High-A ball, though could be ready by 2016; 2017 at the latest. So 2B is still La Stella’s job whenever the team can stomach releasing Uggla.

    Phil Gosselin can play all over the infield, but that’s probably where his value lies: super-utility guy with a solid bat. And Caratini – if he continues on the path – won’t be ready until about the time this new CJ deal expires.

  • Mushy Peas

    Very happy for CJ. Despite his many critics, I can’t help but love the guy….antics and all. I see it as proof that he actually gives a damn and expects a great deal from himself in order to help his team. Not everyone is a stoic and that’s fine with me- just so long as you don’t act like a hot-doggin’ idiot who thinks more of himself and his image than being a team player. Chris is definately not one of those. I’ve commented before about how I loathe that trend of fulfilling the offensive stereotypes relative to a player’s defensive position. I think it can stifle a player’s true potential as it can steer a guy away from the offensive style he is best suited for. It’s a shame Chris fell victim to this at the beginning of his career and the Astros certainly didn’t provide encouragement to do what comes more naturally for him. They wanted that stereotypical power-hitting 3rd baseman. Despite this, CJ’s offense has remained productive. The adjustments he made last season, after joining the Braves, showed him what works best. He stuck with that approach and had a career year. I don’t expect him to contend for the batting title again; nor do I expect him to win any gold gloves, but no team is going to have a gold glover at every position. As Fred pointed out, CJ has Simmons to cover any holes on the left side of the infield. I can see how he’s fallen into some old, bad habits this past month, but I’m confident he’ll find his swing and remain consistent at the plate. For all his nay-sayers, please keep in mind that he had not just one, but two sets of large shoes to fill: franchise player and future hall-of-famer, Chipper Jones,as well as fan favorite, Martín Prado. Add on to that, the degradation of being labelled a ‘throw-in’. I think he’s owed more respect than has been awarded thus far from many people. I think he’s a good fit for the Braves, a good guy to have around the clubhouse, and an all around good guy in general. I see this as a positive move by the Braves and I look forward to seeing him at the hot corner for the next few years.

    • carpengui

      Hard to argue with that, thanks: you gotta like having guys who play and act like they’re trying to re-justify their spot in the lineup every day. Makes me think of Matt Diaz or Reed Johnson.

  • fireboss

    Well I called the contract value within 250K I think I’ll go buy a power ball ticket. I aw in the comments to the AJC blog post folks screaming that they should have done something else, they didn’t say what. Maybe they should read the Take and get an understanding of what’s really going on :)

    • Mushy Peas

      Right said Fred!