Despite the success of the Rays to date this season, there has been a noticeable power outage from what we have come to expect. To date the Rays have only socked 78 home runs through 86 games, putting them on pace for 146.9 home runs, or 17 more than the Blue Jays have hit year-to-date. Some of this was to be expected as Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett had outlier years in terms on power in 2009. With the pitching staff giving up 94 homers to date, it would be nice to see the gap narrow over the second half of the season.
The designated hitter spot in the order has once again been a complete disaster. Everyone is probably familiar with the Pat Burrell disaster of 2009-10. We've also endured Hank Blalock getting a chance from the left side of the plate prior to being designated for assignment. The player with the most plate appearances in the DH role has been Willy Aybar (132) who has posted a wOBA in the role of .312, slightly ahead of the team DH wOBA of .305.
There is all sorts of clamoring for the Rays to make a deadline deal to acquire a bat to shore the glaring weakness in the lineup. While potentially a short-term solution, it is one that is not foolproof. Outside of Luke Scott, there are few tested options available who are used to the top flight pitching of the American League East and the added difficulty of serving as a designated hitter. The Rays just may have an internal option down in Durham in the form of Dan Johnson.
Friday night Dan Johnson slugged his 24th home run of the season for the Durham Bulls and has posted a slash line of .304/.408/.618. Johnson's 24 home runs are six more than his closest competitor. While this is impressive, its not entirely unexpected. After all, Johnson led the International League in wOBA in 2008 at .425 prior to being called up the Rays.At 30 years old its easy and possibly lazy to dismiss Johnson as a AAAA masher. Why is this unfair?
Because Dan Johnson has displayed some success at the major league level. Johnson's last meaningful action in the big leagues was with Oakland in 2007 when he posted a wOBA of .351 in 495 plate appearances. That season Johnson slugged 18 home runs, and posted a walk rate of 14.5% while only striking out 18.5%. In 73 plate appearances as a DH (SSS alert) he posted an OPS of .924. It's hard to fathom why he has not made it back to the big leagues when all he has done since that season is lead the International League in wOBA twice with a miserable season sandwiched between in Japan where he was unhappy and had to face a strike zone that would make Jamie Moyer green with envy. In a sense he reminds me of Rich Gannon who played well whenever he was forced into playing time in the NFL, but was never given an opportunity until the age of 34, his prime wasted.
If Johnson was to be added, who should be the victim? Gabe Kapler's offensive woes this season combined with the ability of Sean Rodriguez to play the outfield, make him a viable candidate. Once again, I'll throw Willy Aybar out there as a candidate. Johnson actually has a higher wRC+ than Aybar for his major league career (105 vs. 103). They both can play 1st base, and while Aybar has more experience playing 3rd base, he's not going to win a gold glove anytime soon. Meanwhile for the first time in Johnson's career, the majority of his playing time has come at 3rd base. Essentially, Johnson could fill in for Longo if need be, with Sean Rodriguez also available. Reid Brignac is struggling to get playing time, but provides Joe Maddon with all sorts of late game possibilities. The other options would be designating Lance Cormier for assignment of optioning down Andy Sonnanstine. I am not in favor of operating with a short pen due to concerns of fatigue similar to the back stretch of 2009.
Its been both a successful and cruel season for Dan Johnson. There is nothing more he could do to play his way on to the big league club, and yet he's still riding the Durham bus. An obvious potential internal replacement for Carlos Pena next year, I would hate to see the organization lose all of its goodwill with the patient Dan Johnson. It's time to either bring him up with an opportunity or send him to a big league that will utilize him as they did with Adam Kennedy last season. Personally, I think he could be a big asset this season in an area the team is sorely lacking. So I turn to you DRB, should the Rays bring up Dan Johnson?