The Tampa Bay Rays are already set a few positions with second base being one of them. Ben Zobrist is one of the league's best second basemen, annually ranking among the top in defense at the position and among the top in fWAR at the position with a bat that holds its own in nearly any position.
With that said I still think there is a free agent out there whose main position is second base but still makes sense for the Rays.
Kelly Johnson is coming off of a season in which he hit a mere .222/.304/.413 and was worth 2.2 fWAR. Not a complete disaster due to his position and defense but not a great season and one that teams will look at and proceed with caution.
Johnson made $5.85M in 2011, his last year of arbitration and coming off his best year as a major league baseball player. But after the down year I believe Johnson may be a bit of a bargain and I see a fit with the Rays, just not at his normal every day position. Let me explain.
The Rays do a have some major holes to fill and I have looked at the options at those positions in my recent posts.
Shortstop looks more and more like it will be Sean Rodirguez's job to lose. First base looks like it can be filled via trade and catcher could either be filled via trade or a one year deal to a free agent like Chris Snyder or the re-signing of Kelly Shoppach.
The Rays really do need to add bats and that is where I see Kelly Johnson fitting in. But at what position? Well, it's not one particular position I see him in, but multiple positions I see fitting him in.
It has been six year since Johnson played left field but I see no reason why he still could not man the easier position especially since he is above average at a more demanding position. The year he played left field he was a spectacular defender with a +10.9 UZR in nearly 650 innings which equates to a UZR/150 of +18.6.
Johnson is also very capable of hitting left handed pitching with a career line of .287/.343/.465, something Matt Joyce and Sam Fuld are not.
Addind Johnson would allow the Rays to do a multitude of things. They could trade Upton and give Johnson the left field job against right handed pitching and let him play second against left handed pitching with Zobrist moving to right to give Joyce the day off. This would also allow the Rays to keep Brandon Guyer in AAA, which is probably better for him if he is not given a full-time job. It would also mean that the Rays could keep Rodriguez at short full-time.
It also allows the Rays to trade B.J. Upton to add pieces to first base, catcher, or bullpen. Or they could keep Upton and it would allow the Rays to use the designated hitter spot to rotate players in and out to give them a rest from the turf that many have complained about.
Johnson would still play second against left-handed pitching with Zobrist either playing right or first base and Johnson could play left field, right field, or DH against right-handed pitching. Heck, Johnson could probably learn first and play it on occasion.
Adding Johnson would give the Rays a 20+ homer bat that can steal 15+ bases with good on-base skills and solid defense wherever you plug him in. It would give the Rays the luxury to trade Upton or keep him and add a good bat without hurting defense. He makes sense for the Rays and I would love to see him playing for the Rays in 2012.
I made an error when writing this article. I accidentally used the projected Elias Rankings that had Kelly Johnson as a Type-B free agent and not the Type-A free agent he actually is. I still believe all options to be looked at but the Type-A status makes a big difference in the way I would have approached this article and the way the Rays approach free agents. I still look at Johnson as a good fit but a harder one to come by. My apologies to the readers for this error. -Jonathan C. Mitchell