Earlier this month, the Atlanta Braves cut Kelly Johnson loose after months of trying to move their former starting second basemen. The Braves decided to hand the job to Martin Prado, and it's hard to argue with the decision. Prado had a breakout season in 2009 hitting .307/.358/.464 in over 500 plate appearances. His wOBA over the past two seasons is over .360 in a combined 750+ PA's. Defensively, he is slighly below average to average. However, the most important factor was his price tag. Prado is not yet arbitration eligible, while Johnson was due a raise on his $2.8 million dollar salary despite a down season.
It's true, Johnson, 27, had a bad season in 2009 at the dish. However,he was above average in the two years prior. In the two seasons before 2009, he hit .282/.362/.451 with an average wOBA around .350. Just look around the league, a .350 wOBA at second base would put you among the better players at the position. In 2009, Johnson's slash line dipped to .224/.303/.389. That .350 wOBA bottomed out at .306. Add in the emergence of Prado and Johnson was sent out to pasture.
*Warning* cliche about one man's trash being another one's treasure.
According to multiple outlets, Josh Byrnes is set to pick up Frank Wren's trash, and is likely to be the benefactor of Johnson's treasures in 2010. A near .100 point drop in BABIP year over year would definitely a factor in the sharp drop in production. While his .344 BABIP in 2008 was a bit high, his .249 BABIP in 2009 was a bit low. His LD% also dropped nearly 4% less than normal and his fly balls rose to an all time high. In addition to the statistical issues, a wrist injury that cost him some time, but should be healed up by now.
Despite the dip in overall production, you could argue that Johnson actually showed some improvement as a hitter. His walk rate improved from 2008, and his strikeout rate fell to a career low 17.8%. His ISO remained relatively static at .165.
Johnson broke into the big leagues as a left fielder, but has not played the position since 2005. He now makes his home at second base and would continue to do so in Arizona. The bad news is he's not exactly a great fielder. Looking at the three years he has spent at the position, his career UZR/150 is -7.4. That looks a lot worse without a .775 OPS accompanying it.
Overall, the reward should outweigh the risk in this situation. I'm not sure Johnson is the .363 wOBA/3 WAR player we saw in 2007, but I'm pretty sure he is better than the .306 wOBA/0.7 WAR we saw last year. Defense is an issue, but he should provide enough punch at the plate to offset some of the damage. At a reported salary slightly north of $2 million dollars, he will roughly make the same as Alex Cora, who is Alex Cora.
A 0.5 WAR season would cover the "value" portion of the contract. If Johnson can settled in the 1.5-2 WAR range, the D-Backs will be receiving a bargain. If he repeats his 2009 performance, then the deal is a wash. There is also the added bonus of retaining Johnson's rights for an additional season as he will be under team control through 2011.