The Orioles announced this morning that they’ve signed veteran corner infielder Chris Johnson to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. The former Astros/Braves/Marlins is represented by Excel Sports Management.
Johnson, 32, spent the 2016 season with the Marlins after signing to be a platoon partner for left-handed-hitting first baseman Justin Bour. While that seemed like a solid on-paper fit, given the lifetime .314/.350/.436 batting line against lefties which Johnson carried into last season, he experienced some uncharacteristic struggles against southpaws. In 109 plate appearances versus lefties, Johnson hit just .212/.284/.333. His production against right-handers was very similar in 155 PAs, and he wound up posting a career-worst .222/.281/.329 batting line on the season as a whole.
The Braves inked Johnson to a three-year, $23.5MM contract extension on the heels of a BABIP-fueled 2013 breakout — a season that saw Johnson bat .321/.358/.457 (with a .394 average on balls in play). His bat took a significant step back in 2014, however, and he was traded to the Indians in a 2015 exchange of bad contracts. (Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher went to Atlanta in the deal.) Johnson will still earn $9MM this season — the final guaranteed year of that contract — which the Indians are on the hook for. If he makes it to the Orioles’ Major League roster, they’d only owe him the pro-rated portion of the league minimum, which would be subtracted from Cleveland’s obligation to Johnson. As it stands, though, he seems likely to be ticketed for Triple-A Norfolk.