Free Agent Stock Watch: Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson’s free agent stock has improved considerably in the past week and it has nothing to do with his ability to contribute on a baseball field. The MLBPA announced on Tuesday that teams will no longer have to forfeit draft picks to sign six Type A free agents and, fortunately for Johnson, he was on the list.

Kelly Johnson

Heading into the offseason, it seemed likely that Johnson’s Type A ranking would limit his free agent value. His offense dropped off in 2011 (.222/.304/.413 line with 21 homers), so teams might not have wanted to surrender a top draft pick for the 29-year-old. But thanks to the players association, all that’s required to sign Johnson is money.

So far this offseason, middle infielders such as Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Mark Ellis, Aaron Hill and John McDonald have all signed multiyear deals. Omar Infante agreed to a similar contract before officially hitting free agency. Johnson’s career .260/.343/.441 line trumps the others and he’s younger than every one of the infielders mentioned except Hill (Johnson and Hill were born less than a month apart).

Johnson's representatives at SFX will likely make the case that he is a complete player who contributes on defense (above-average UZR in 2010 and 2011), with his power (47 home runs in 2010-11), by getting on base (.343 career OBP) and on the basepaths (double-digit steals in three of the past four seasons). There's a good chance teams like the Blue Jays, Tigers, Cubs and Rockies consider Johnson the best remaining free agent option in a thinned-out second base market.

Given the abundance of two-year deals for second basemen so far this offseason and the fact that Johnson won’t cost a draft pick, he figures to obtain two-year offers. If he’s looking for a two-year deal, I expect he could sign for more than the $11MM Hill obtained. Alternatively, he could accept arbitration or seek a one-year deal with a higher base salary and attempt to position himself for a bounce-back season and a major free agent contract a year from now at the age of 30.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.

90 Responses to Free Agent Stock Watch: Kelly Johnson Leave a Reply

  1. AlexTG 4 years ago

    Well, the Jays are the only team that would forfeit draft picks (2 of em) if they signed him so I really doubt it will happen.

  2. crzycanuck 4 years ago

    Jays need to sign Johnson.  I wouldn’t have minded so much if he signed elsewhere due to his Type A status so the 1st round pick would have been fine with me.  But given the fact that Toronto wont get squat in return, they might as well dish out the cash since there are no 2B in the organization that are even remotely close to playing in the majors anytime soon.  Unless you want Mike McCoy as your everyday 2B, pay Johnson what his market value is and hope that last year was just a bump in the road and he’ll return to being an above average fielder with some pretty good power.

    • you clearly don’t know as much as you think you do. Jays will still get picks for Johnson.

      • Eduardo Medina 4 years ago

        “The MLBPA announced on Tuesday that teams will no longer have to forfeit draft picks to sign six Type A free agents and, fortunately for Johnson, he was on the list.”

        • Encarnacion's Parrot 4 years ago

          Modified type-A’s get a 1st round pick that will be in front of the team who signs the player, unless that team’s 1st rounder is protected–then it falls into the second round. No picks are given up, but the team does move behind in the draft.

          To give an example because this is confusing: the Tigers finished 27th in the reverse standings, or are drafting 27th overall in 2012. If they sign Johnson, the Jays then draft 27th overall, and the Tigers now draft 28th, with all the teams who finished lower in said standings also falling back one spot in the draft order.

          • crzycanuck 4 years ago

            My head hurts.  But that was by far the simplest explanation I’ve heard so far.  Thanks.  In that case, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Astros end up signing him.  There’s no way Anthopoulos will pass on high draft picks to overpay a middle-of-the-pack 2B.  Besides, with slew of prospects the Blue Jays have, they can easily make a trade and address one of their most pressing needs.

          • AlexTG 4 years ago

            I think if the astros sign him, the jays get a lower pick than if one of the top 15 teams signs him.

          • Encarnacion's Parrot 4 years ago

            This is correct. If a team with a protected first rounder signs him, your compensation ends up in the 2nd round.

            “Modified type-A’s get a 1st round pick that will be in front of the team who signs the player, unless that team’s 1st rounder is protected–then it falls into the second round.

            I did say it, but this is kinda messed up.

          • AlexTG 4 years ago

            yeah the whole thing is screwy.  They should have just made it 2 sandwich picks.

        • Onetimeaccount 4 years ago

          /not getting into it

        • Considering the fact the Jays already have 2 first rounders this year (not signing Beede last year and their own from this year), they don’t have the “cap” space to sign three first rounders considering the hard slot system the MLB devised to ensure only the Yankees and Red Sox win the east.

          They need a 2B, and Johnson is the best option available, and they win a Pyrrhic victory by allowing him to leave, so really their best option is to sign him. 

          • AlexTG 4 years ago

            The more draft picks you have, the higher your cap is.  So your argument holds no water.

          • The slot cap does not necessarily go up proportional to the number of picks you have considering there is no incentive for the players to accept the hard slot recommendations.  Teams like Toronto have been traditionally going over slot to get the high upside type to sign.  So yes, my argument does hold water, because the hard slot is for teams only, not the players being drafted and their Boras’ type agents.

          • AlexTG 4 years ago

            No, because you can transfer slot space from one pick to another.  So say you get 1.5M per draft pick, if you have 2 picks you can pick a 2.9M player with one pick and a 0.1M player with the other instead of just being able to pick a single 1.5M player.

          • You don’t get a round number per pick, it goes down with each player selected, with the highest pick getting a higher slot value.  This means that if you try to sign a Tyler Beede and go over slot in the first round, like the Jays have been trying to do, you use up cap (which is an aggregate amount based on number and value of picks).

            In the end, having a large number of picks does not mean what it used to, especially considering the cap on going over slot.  With these values the way they are, it makes much more sense to sign Johnson, because the cost of the third 1st rounder could make all the rest of the picks in rounds 2-10 pointless or cost prohibitive. 

          • AlexTG 4 years ago

            I think either you are totally misunderstanding how the cap is going to work or everyone else is.  

            By the virtue of having 3 first round picks instead of 2 you will have more total cap space, which means more total talent, regardless of how many picks it’s spread over or in which rounds you decide to spend that money.

          • Randy 4 years ago

            I recognize that you are going to get more money per picks, the total depending on the suggested slot for that pick.  For example, the first pick is worth something like $7.2m with the second pick worth $4m.  What I am trying to say is that allowing another team to take Johnson means they could end up with the 30th pick and gaining a slot cap of $900k for that pick.  The player they select could demand a $2m bonus in order to sign, forcing the Jays to try and sign over slot (aka. Tyler Beede).  If they do this enough and go over their aggregate slot total, they are subject to the tax and possible forfeiture of a pick next year.

            Teams are going to be cap conscious this year, but players and agents don’t care about that.  Taking two picks for Johnson is a very serious, and potentially hazardous, proposition for the Jays because they can easily go over slot on the two 1st round picks they already have and risk not being able to sign the players they select in rounds 2-10.  Pittsburgh spent something like $13.5m on their two first rounders last year, and the Jays are looking at a total slot cap of less than $11m (even with the additional picks) because the slot value of their picks is going to be low.

            I am not misunderstanding the slot cap.  They need a 2B, Johnson is available and will cost potentially less than giving up a prospect in a trade, so they should sign him.  The value of the picks they are going to get for him is relatively low because they already have two first round picks, and unless they are going to select a bunch of Junior or Senior college players instead of the high schoolers they have been drafting in recent years, they are at serious risk of going over the slot cap.

          • They can also just not sign their 9th and 10th rounders to leave more money for the others.  The cap is only for the first 10 rounds, as far as I understand.

          • Randy 4 years ago

            The aggregate cap is only the first 10 rounds, after that there is a slot cap of $100k for each selection.  If you go over the $100k you are subject to the slot cap tax.

            The relative value of the 9th and 10th round picks is very low, and not signing them will result in far less than $1m in available slot cap space.

      • sourbob 4 years ago

        You can hardly blame someone for getting confused by the new draft pick compensation system. Cut the guy some slack.

      • crzycanuck 4 years ago

        Yes yes I get it now.

  3. The only way he’s back in TOR is if he accepts arbitration.  The Jays will have up to 8 picks in the first two rounds if Johnson plays elsewhere this season, and this is the last chance the Jays will get to game the system the way they have in the last couple years.  Anthopoulos loves his draft picks (rightfully so), and there isn’t a remarkable difference between Johnson and anybody else out there who could be had to play 2B, especially when 2 draft picks are the incentive to take someone slightly worse.

    • Tale Sen 4 years ago

      I think there’s still a reasonable chance AA goes for Johnson even if he declines.  Not bidding war crazy, but willing to spend a bit if the length of the contract is reasonable (2 or 3 years).  I think he’s more gunshy on the bigger FAs who require way longer contracts to lock up that could end in disaster. It may take a couple prospects to go out and get a guy like Prado, anyway.

      • Johnson would have to sign for so cheap to justify this.  The price to pay for Johnson includes losing out on two reasonably high draft picks, so I’m going to drum up some approximate marginal costs, based on the current market, and then compare it to the draft picks…

        Johnson probably signs for 6.5-8MM/yr, based on the current market and length of deal.  There are plenty of other options out there who won’t be as effective as Johnson, but also won’t be as expensive. However any lack in production between Johnson and [replacement] will be more than offset by the value that two draft picks in the top 50 picks provide (There’s also at least some chance that Johnson has another off-year, and the Jays get higher production out of whomever).

        We obviously don’t know exactly what picks they’re giving up, but if you google “Victor Wang+ Valuing the draft part 1″ we see that a typical type-A is worth $3-5MM (in 2009 $, so factoring inflation, and including the new slots/penalties for going over slot, I’m comfortable just going with $5MM), which is a cost that the Jays would need to subtract from Johnson’s market value.  If the Jays think that Johnson, in a vacuum, is worth $7MM/yr over 2, losing these draft picks means that they’ll have to include that $5MM from the contract total, especially since there is practically no shot of him getting back to (this CBA’s equivalent of) type-A status without 2 monster seasons, and even then, he’ll be 31 or 32 or whatever, which lessens the chances of a multiyear deal at whatever the cost of the 1yr qualifying offer is at that time.

        So assuming that he’s only worth a 2yr deal, ~2/9MM is the equilibrium for rejecting the picks and signing KJ, and only signing him cheaper results in a surplus relative to letting him go and adding draft picks.  You can attach club options to that or something if you want to add value, but Johnson isn’t going to go sign for anything less than Aaron Hill’s 2/11MM, especially when as many as 4 teams are still interested.

        Finally, the Jays are more likely to want those picks anyway, even if they can get a deal just shy of equilibrium [2yr deal at what they value Johnson at-$5MM] given the strength of their scouting department.  The $5MM valuation of a type-A (i.e. 2 draft picks) is only a standardized number, and with such a strong scouting department, the right number might be closer to $5.5-7MM.

        • AlexTG 4 years ago

          That draft pick valuation is before the new CBA too, which I believe has greatly increased the value of draft picks.

          • Probably.  I didn’t really touch on that because of the uncertainty on draft budgets and caps and whatnot.

    • With 8 picks in the first round AA will go over slot and have to pay the slotting tax and forfeit next year’s 1st round pick.  I think the best option is to sign Johnson, he is only 29 and T.O. has a proven track record of helping guys bounce back from off years in other cities…

      • crzycanuck 4 years ago

        Such will be the case with Rasmus I have no doubt.  Just ask Escobar and Bautista.

      • Are you sure about that?  With more picks, you’d think the respective cap would go up.  If not, there’s not really much sense in even having the sandwich round.  I’m pretty sure the system allots a certain dollar amount to the team’s cap for each draft pick they have, and not a hard cap irrespective of number of draft picks.

  4. The_Porcupine 4 years ago

    I don’t see the Jays getting into a bidding for for Johnson.  So while I’d rather see the Rox improve, I see the Tigers swooping in a picking him up.  Since you could argue that Johnson has been better than Hill, I’m going to say 2 years, 14 million.

  5. rdillon99 4 years ago

    For the Blue Jays to re-sign Johnson, they would have to pay the same money/years as any other team making an offer plus forego the two picks that they would have otherwise received had they let some other team sign him. In that sense, the Blue Jays would have to pay more to sign Johnson than any other team in the league, which is why I don’t think it will happen…. especially now that compensation draft picks will be so much more difficult to obtain in the future.

  6. The_BiRDS 4 years ago

    I could see the Cardinals making a bit for him.

    • CaseyBlakeDeWitt 4 years ago

      Johnson’s got a pretty good sense of humor I hear, so that might work.

    • esteban_none_a_loaiza 4 years ago

      A song and dance bit perhaps?

  7. touchmymonkey 4 years ago

    Not sure why cubs would be interested in him – Barney is much cheaper alternative and not a horrible player. Unless cubs are going to use Barney as tradebait to fill another hole ( maybe murphy from mets to play 3b? ) but that kind of goes against what Theo has been touting as far as building up the farm.

    • diehardmets 4 years ago

      I’d rather have the Mets just stick Murphy at 2B. Barney is pretty terrible. 

  8. ClimaClub 4 years ago

    I prefer the jays let him go; sign jerry hariston or trade for a stopgap 2ndbaseman

  9. 1. Tigers
    2. Cards
    3. Rockies
    4. Cubs
    5. Twins

    Jays very unlikely to give up their comp picks in the last year they have a chance to hoard them. Don’t expect him back (although he does suit the need otherwise)

  10. Colin Christopher 4 years ago

    Too bad the Braves didn’t pay attention to advanced metrics back in 2009 when they decided to let KJ walk. (BABIP…that CRAZY advanced number which suggested that KJ was simply a victim of horrible luck in 2009. Who knows how these stats are formulated? They’re like magic! Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?) They could have locked him up much cheaper than Uggla, and now they’d have extra money to go after a power bat for their outfield. 

    Sigh. I love my Braves, but sometimes I wish their scouting department would step forward from the 1950s.

  11. esteban_none_a_loaiza 4 years ago

    While everyone is fixated on the additional 2 draft picks the Jays stand to lose in re-signing Johnson, there is something to be said for the resultant market value of a player who stands to cost his new team 2 picks. It’s not as if these are “free” picks. Under the old system it is indistinguishable where Kelly Johnson’s value ends and that of the 2 draft picks begin. His ordinary market value will be discounted to account for the loss of 2 additional picks.

    • ClimaClub 4 years ago

      under the new rules the new team doesnt give up a pick and yet the jays will get a pick, KJ is a modified type A.

    • AlexTG 4 years ago

      Actually they are ‘free’ picks.

  12. The Jays should trade for Prado or somebody else and let Johnson walk for the picks. Recent history suggests that the going rate for a star level player in a trade is three top prospects. First rounders and sandwich rounders are all but guaranteed (with good scouting) to achieve that status (at least on the short term). So basically, the Jays can trade Kelly Johnson and John Rauch for an all star down the road. 

    • Also note: There’s a difference between saying top picks are all but assured to reach “top prospect” status and saying that they’ll actually become quality, big league players. (That is far less likely.) But top prospects can be turned into quality big leaguers regardless of whether or not they will actually become one themselves. They’re just another form of currency.

  13. TheBigNice 4 years ago

    It’s got to be the Tigers that nab him. They have both the need and the cash to get it done. 

    • slider32 4 years ago

      I have Johnson going to the Tigers, and the Jays finishing 4th again!

      • renegadeisback 4 years ago

        I have you trolling the Jays in every talkback

  14. Gumby65 4 years ago

    Thanks NedCo for jumping the gun on Mark Ellis.

  15. I’m a Jays fan, but a 4th place finish is about as assured as death, taxes and spring following winter.

    • renegadeisback 4 years ago

      Jays could easily surpass the Rays next season.

    • chico65 4 years ago

      I thought mud season followed winter

      • Encarnacion's Parrot 4 years ago

        You can have nuclear winter, which lasts for a year or two. :/

      • 0bsessions 4 years ago

        Now that’s more my speed.

    • 0bsessions 4 years ago

      “spring following winter.”

      As a lifelong New Englander, I say you just shot your argument to spit with that one.

  16. I would like to think the Twins would be in on Johnson. C’mon Terry Ryan, let’s upgrade at 2B. Nishi and Alexi aren’t cutting it.

  17. johnsmith4 4 years ago

    I wonder if White Sox let Jays have Gordon Beckham if Jays agree to take Peavy.

  18. I would imagine AA’s all over trying to get Beckham. If he’s even remotely available, AA will take his best hack.

  19. The Org Guy 4 years ago

    Agree — I think if Anthopoulos is willing to open the pocketbook for anyone, it will be to fill a gaping organizational hole at second base.  There aren’t many other options out there, unless he can swing a trade for someone like Prado.

  20. AlexTG 4 years ago

    If some other team signs him, the Jays get two draft picks.  If the Jays sign him, they get no draft picks.  It’s equivalent to forfeiting the picks.

  21. rdillon99 4 years ago

    For the Blue Jays to sign him, it will cost the money guaranteed by the contract plus the two draft picks that they otherwise would have received if they let some other team sign him. In that sense, it costs more for the Jays to sign him than any other team. For that reason, I don’t foresee the Blue Jays re-signing him. More likely IMO is that the Blue Jays look for a one-year stop gap at 2B and revisit this problem area in next year’s free agency.

  22. I can’t wait when those 2 draft picks turn into a decent MLB player or potential high upside guys.

  23. Can’t wait for the day when you stop going into every Jays related article just to troll their fans.

  24. Frank Drebin 4 years ago


  25. The Org Guy 4 years ago

    Well, it’s doubtful that it’s good value, with the money he’d cost and the picks they’d get for not signing him.  It’s really the long-term issue that needs to be determined. If AA thinks it’s the best option he has for the next two years (which is the likely length of contract), he may take the value hit and forego the two picks he’d get if Johnson signed elsewhere.  But the organization would have to get awfully creative to find an in-house solution within the same two-year window, or to make a trade for someone else which is going to cost prospect anyway.

  26. Yes, but at some point you have to stop cheering for draft picks and want an actual good team on the field.

    I get it, the draft picks are nice, but I would be upset if Mike McCoy was the Jays starting second baseman.  My preference in order would be:

    A: Jays let Johnson go, get two picks and make a deal for a good second baseman (i.e. Prado)
    B: Jays resign Johnson
    C: Jays let Johnson go, get two picks and fans have to put up with a stiff playing 2B in 2012.

  27. Frank Drebin 4 years ago

    The vast majority into career minor league nobodies.

  28. Morley C 4 years ago

    Draft picks are more useful than you think. They turn into prospects that can be traded for MLB players.
    That said, A & B are the most likely options of the ones you’ve proposed.

  29. adameb 4 years ago

    Or, you can tolerate the lag, and eventually you get to start cheering for an ‘actual good team on the field’ made up of the draft picks, like TB after their years of misery.  Throw in money to spend, but conserved until those picks ripen, and you’ve got an actual 5 year plan; unlike JPR’s “5 years of mediocrity and hoping Bos/NY/TB all collapse at once into some black hole singularity 5 year plan”

  30. If this team is going to win this season, Mike Mccoy will not be the starting 2B.  It might not be much better than Mccoy, but Mccoy is a bench player and everybody knows it.  Whether it be through trade or FA, someone will be there.

    Under the scenario where Mccoy is at 2B, there will be a trade sooner or later, or Hechavarria will be up, or something, but it won’t matter, because it will mean that the team isn’t ready to get it done.

    So basically, a combo of options A (“good” 2b isn’t necessarily true though) and C.

  31. adameb 4 years ago

    Step 1 – Sign Gonzalez
    Step 2 – He has hot start
    Step 3 – Trade him to ATL for Prado
    Step 4 – Move Prado to 2nd


  32. I’m a life long Jays fan. Sometimes I might be a cynical Jays fan, but I still love them nonetheless….

  33. Frank Drebin 4 years ago

    You’re basically gonna have the exact same team as last years 4th place team. Potential?

  34. Um, why not just trade for Prado right now and skip the first part? I doubt he’ll cost very much.

  35. adameb 4 years ago

     No, i insist on continually getting Atlanta’s younger players for Gonzalez.

  36. I know quite a bit about the team actually. Just “cuz” I realize they’re in a tough division, doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about them. They have a lot of great players and prospects. But they’ll still be in tough against the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays.

  37. grownice 4 years ago

     If KJ becomes to expensive or AA values the picks more then what KJ will cost to sign , who else do you suppose they get at 2b? Gonzalez isnt the worst option , he did hit well for them and netted them Yunel Escobar.  How funny would that be to see Gonzalez and Escobar  up the middle Lol. Thanks Atlanta!

  38. You’re right. I was being jokingly pessimistic due to the fact that they’ve finished 4th so often over the past 5 or 6 years. They absolutely could do better than that next year, and obviously, I hope that they do. Maybe this will be the year where Rasmus, Morrow and Snider breakout large. How awesome would that be?

  39. Colin Christopher 4 years ago

    You “doubt he’ll cost very much?” Try again.

  40. grownice 4 years ago

     For a stop gap? phillips would cost a ton, beckham would cost something pretty decent, what would YOU give up for them? Or you could plug gonzalez in for a year and hope hechavarria’s bat developes, and then you saved all those prospects for something of greater need down the road.

  41. Frank Drebin 4 years ago

    Yup. Once again, because it happened for the Rays, that means its gonna happen for the Jays. Funny you cherry pick the Rays and not the numerous other teams that have for years and years relied on picks and have done diddly jack sh*t.

  42. Frank Drebin 4 years ago

    And Atlanta was several injured pitchers away from being in the playoffs AGAIN. While a full year of mega-superstar Hall of Famer Yunel Escobar you finished…once again….In 4th. “Lol”

  43. grownice 4 years ago

    I think you meant to say “Monumental Collapse”.

  44. grownice 4 years ago

     You’ll have some company then atleast.

  45. Howard 4 years ago

    Are you kidding me? When we traded him to the Braves for Yunel Escobar he had the same amount of HR’s as Bautista and went on to like a 18 HR 80+ rbi season with the Braves… when healthy he is great all around!

Leave a Reply