As the Yankees attempt to patch together their outfield after their most recent acquisition, in Tyler Kepner’s latest, we learn of the team’s left field plan going forward. The NY Times scribe writes that the Yankees are “not interested at all in the free agents Jason Bay and Matt Holliday,” two outfielders that simply do not fit the Yankees’ current payroll. Instead, given their decision to employ financial restraint this winter, the Yankees are interested in “several lower-tier free agents,” notes Kepner, including the “veteran Reed Johnson,” who is a career .282/.344/.411 hitter.
Johnson, at 33, is a right-hander with a knack for knocking southpaws (career .841 OPS against, versus a .707 OPS against righties). He established himself as a mediocre hitter and an excellent corner outfielder while manning left field (his career UZR/150 in left is 23.3) with the Blue Jays from 2003 to 2006. In 2007, however, lower back issues — a herniated disc and surgery to correct the issue — hurt both his offensive and defensive contributions. Johnson was subsequently released by Toronto and then signed with the Cubs, where, in 2008, he platooned with the remarkable Jim Edmonds to play center field (he also played some right field). In 109 games, Johnson hit .303/.358/420, primarily against lefties, although, in terms of defense, his glove was nowhere near as good in center as it was in an outfield corner. In 2009, Johnson hit .255/.330/.412, but his regular season ended prematurely after he fractured his foot via foul ball in July. Also, it’s important to note that the lower back problems he dealt with in Toronto continued to bother him in 2008 and 2009 as his back ultimately forced him to the disabled list twice during his stint in the Windy City.
Johnson, if healthy, could serve as a nice platoon-mate for Brett Gardner. Both would probably play excellent defense in left as they are similar in that regard. Johnson doesn’t have the speed of Gardner, but, even with back problems, his power is better. With the resources the Yankees have, a platoon seems like a poor resolution to their left field situation, however, with Joe Girardi behind the wheel (he did a good job “platooning” Melky and Gardner), it could work.
If the Yankees don’t like Johnson due to injury concerns and are interested in “several lower-tier free agents” like him, in that they are both inexpensive and useful, they could also turn to the recently non-tendered yet once promising Ryan Church, the 36-year old veteran Randy Winn, the rehabbing Xavier Nady, or even the ill-mannered Brian Giles, who Cashman has actually checked in on recently (or maybe Brett Gardner could earn himself a full-time gig).
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images