In last night’s game, two second baseman were booed for completely different reasons. I’ve talked about my opinions about booing Robinson Cano quite recently, but the other taunted second baseman was still wearing pinstripes. After watching his defense over the last week, it’s hard to argue that Kelly Johnson doesn’t deserve to hear it from the fans, but if anyone deserves to be booed, it’s whoever is asking him to play positions that he’s hardly ever played before.
Before 2014, Kelly Johnson was a full time second baseman with some experience in left field. Over his entire major league career, Johnson had just two starts at first base and twelve starts at third base prior to joining the Yankees. At the moment, he hasn’t logged a single start at second base or the outfield for the Yankees, and he’s now started nineteen games at first base and fourteen games at third base. The Yankees have asked him to not only play irregularly, but when he does play, to play at positions where he has virtually no experience.
The argument for Johnson at first base, likely by Joe Girardi or Brian Cashman, is that the team shouldn’t be in this position to start with. An injury to Mark Teixeira has left the Yankees without a true first baseman, though it wasn’t hard to see that a player coming off such a serious wrist injury might at least miss part of the 2014 season. The Yankees never acquired a backup first baseman this offseason, and it’s Johnson who’s taking the blame for their poor strategy.
Even with the possibility that Teixeira returns to the lineup very soon, the Yankees should be on the market for a player that can handle first base adequately. If the Yankees were to find that player in a trade or sign Kendrys Morales, the likely move at this point would be to designate Johnson for assignment. But before this happens, Johnson deserves a chance to show what he can do at his regular position. Brian Roberts has been a complete mess at second base, showing diminished range and at times looked like he’s forgotten how to play the spot.
It’s been five years since Roberts was any good at baseball, and he’s hardly shown signs of returning to his former self. At least with Kelly Johnson, there is a recent history of power production and last season’s offensive performance with the Rays was just about average for the league. Johnson now has twice as many home runs as Roberts in fifty fewer plate appearances. Johnson still doesn’t get regular time in the field, and I’m starting to wonder if the Yankees will give him any sort of shot at starting second base. His defense at the position over his career has been ranked very average, which is far better production than what we’ve seen from Roberts this season.
And going forward, Johnson is far less of an injury liability than Roberts. Sure, he doesn’t have the same versatility as a switch-hitter, but it’s not like Roberts is crushing left-handed pitchers with his .250/.318/.388 slash as a right-handed hitter. It’s a shame if the Yankees were to designate Johnson for assignment when he’s theoretically an upgrade over Roberts’ bat and glove.