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Dan Johnson Fan Club: Can the Pumpkin rise again?

Mr. Ray For Life had an impressive 2012 season with the White Sox Triple-A affiliate and then finished the season with a flourish in the majors, so can the Rays find a place for him to fit in 2012?

J. Meric - Getty Images

Oyez, oyez! I officially call this meeting of the Dan Johnson Fan Club to order.

Today's agenda is a big one, perhaps the most important we have had in nigh a year. Today's agenda: Convincing ourselves that Dan Johnson needs to be re-signed by the Tampa Bay Rays.

It is no secret I am a fan of Dan Johnson. He, behind only a mystery Ray whom I assume no one will ever guess, is my second-favorite all-time member of the Tampa Bay Rays. He has hit pretty much all but one of the Rays' most historical -- if not important -- home runs, and he owns a reputation as a Quad-A type, which is a breed of players for whom I have a particular weakness.

That being said, the Rays may have a double-vacancy -- once again -- at DH and first base. Carlos Pena is leaving, and I would bet a finsky the Rays do not exercise Luke Scott's option year. Maybe I'm wrong, but at this point it is difficult for me to project Scott for any more than 100 games and maybe 110 wRC+.

(Now that I've put him at a 0.5 WAR ceiling, watch him go and put up 4.5 WAR somewhere else.)

So, with at least a first baseman need and possibly a double-sluggers need, the Rays will once again turn to internal and external targets. In the past, that has come largely through free agency with mixed-to-bad results. The Rays may unload a pitcher this offseason, but there is no precedent of the team trading for first base / DH types, and with television contracts giving the Rays a bit of an income boost, they may opt to hang onto their pitching.

And even if they did go the trade route, who would they pursue? C.J. Cron? Daniel Vogelbach? Darin Ruf? Lars Anderson or Matt LaPorta? The trade markets seems either too expensive (and too young for 2013) or uninspiring. (Please let me know in the comments who you would pursue in the trade market; it's quite possible I'm just not thinking of the perfect candidate.)

Here is the complete list of free agents in the coming offseason, courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors. If the Rays go the free agent route, they are likely to maintain their free agent budget of about $5 to $10 million for first base and designated hitter. If that is the case, they are limited to probably these names:

First Basemen

  • Eric Hinske (35)
  • Casey Kotchman (30)
  • Carlos Lee (37)
  • James Loney (29)
  • Jason Giambi (42)
  • Xavier Nady (34)
  • Lyle Overbay (36)
  • Carlos Pena (35)
  • Lance Berkman (36) <-- Maybe. Depending on what his recent injury does to his market value.

Designated Hitters

  • Bobby Abreu (39)
  • Johnny Damon (39)
  • Raul Ibanez (41)
  • Hideki Matsui (39)
  • Jim Thome (42)

There are some other names out there worth looking into -- Eric Chavez and Jonny Gomes among them -- but in general, this is about what the MLB free agent pool has to offer.

Internally, the Rays have some low-to-medium upside hitters who could maybe inspire the Rays to give them a shot:

Internal Candidates

  • Leslie Anderson (31)
  • Stephen Vogt (28) <-- #freehim
  • Henry Wrigley (26)
  • Ryan Garko (32) <-- Not sure, but I don't imagine he's still under contract.
  • Kyeong Kang (25)
  • Luke Scott (35)
  • Brandon Allen (27) <-- He is currently on what amounts to the SoftBank Hawks Triple-A team, earning $300,000. Pretty Sure the Rays could get him back if desired.

Again, this list does little in the way of inspiring. The best names on any of these three lists all have really big numbers in parenthesis behind them.

So what do the Rays do? I have seen others suggest this, and I am here to propose it: Get everyone.

Get as many of these names as possible on either minor league contracts or cheap contracts -- make $10 million go as far as it can. Give a chance to as many Quad-A guys and near-retirement veterans as possible, and hope one of them Casey Kotchmans.

Think about it: The most productive first base / DH combo the Rays have had came in a year where their second options -- Kotchman and Damon -- became their workhorses. That year, the Rays brought in three free agents and one Quad-A guy (DanJo) and let the cards fall. DanJo's wrist injury rendering him punchless early, Manny Ramirez was excessively Manny Ramirez, and Kotchman and Damon helped save the season.

My wish list, and the highest reasonable price (in my humble opinion) for the guys I'd like to see in Spring Training is as such:

  • Dan Johnson ($1.5 million, 1 year with option)
  • Jason Giambi ($2.0 million, 1 year)
  • Lance Berkman ($4.0 million, 1 year with option)
  • Raul Ibanez ($1.5 million, 1 year)
  • Jim Thome ($2.5 million, 1 year)
  • Jonny Gomes ($1.5 million, 1 year with option)
  • Eric Chavez ($2.0 million, 1 year with option)
  • James Loney (MLB minimum)
  • Carlos Pena (MLB minimum)
  • Luke Scott (MLB minimum)
  • Eric Hinske (MiLB deal)
  • Carlos Lee (MiLB deal)
  • Casey Kotchman (MiLB deal)
  • Bobby Abreu (MiLB deal)
  • Johnny Damon (MiLB deal)
  • Brandon Allen (MiLB deal)
  • Ryan Garko (MiLB deal)
  • Hideki Matsui (MiLB deal if, like, quite desperate)

NOTE: I would prefer a minor league contract for any and all of these guys, but I've listed what I would consider the upper bounds of their risk value.

If the Rays ended up with five or seven of those options entering Spring Training, I would feel quite good about the first base / DH situation. Maybe Leslie Anderson or Henry Wrigley impresses enough to earn consideration in Spring Training? I would love for them to do that, but I do not expect it.

And I would feel even better about the third base situation -- and Longo's health -- if we had both Eric Chavez and Dan Johnson. Johnson is not a natural third baseman, but I believe he can play a Kevin Youkilis quality of third base -- he will hurt us defensively, but hopefully his offense will cover those sins. His range numbers (both UZR and range factor) in the majors were above average, but his errors cost him dearly (2 errors in 15 chances, -1.2 ErrR). However, in 2010 with Durham, his range factor numbers were below average and through 36 games at third (99 chances) -- the most steady playing time he's ever had at third base -- he had only one error.

So Johnson's defensive numbers at third are a mixed bag, but judging by what I have seen of him playing third at Durham and the majors, I think we can file him under emergency third baseman. Either way, with both he and Chavez on the roster, the Rays would have two layers of backup plans already in the organization.

What are the Rays likely to do? We cannot say for sure what their approach will be -- our how the market will treat them. There is already a good chance the White Sox, who understandably loved Johnson's work this season, will pursue / are already pursuing Johnson for 2013. (There is even a chance they will put him at third if there's not enough money floating around to retain Youkilis.)

I doubt the Rays would get into much of a bidding war -- especially against a big-market team -- over Johnson. They might prefer instead other minor league free agents like Brad Eldred and Jack Cust, both of whom would certainly sign for minor league deals.

I do think there is something to be said for Dan Johnson's profile as a hitter though: Both in the minors (~16% K-rate) and the majors (~15% K-rate), he kept his strikeout rate low for a slugger. He also has high walk rates, which can portend a dangerous level of passivity, but the simple truth is that few Triple-A sluggers with any promise also have moderate strikeout rates and 1500+ PA in majors. That allows us to look at his 101 wRC+ as a generally safe bet, with the possibility of even better.

So I'm hoping the Rays bet on Dan Johnson. I hope you'll join me.

Meeting concluded.