Why is it that every few weeks or so lately the Blue Jays have been linked in the media to a player who once played here before, but wasn’t a good fit then and wouldn’t be now. First it was Brett Lawrie after he was released by the White Sox a few weeks back, and now the Blue Jays are rumoured to be interested in Kelly Johnson. Of all players, why on earth would Toronto bring back Johnson? In his first go with the Blue Jays, Johnson was nothing spectacular, so what leads someone to think he’s a player the Blue Jays should be interested in yet again?
Some people seem to think that players like Lawrie and Johnson are an upgrade over Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins. To that I say you need to look at the big picture. Perhaps Lawrie and Johnson are better offensively, but in every other facet of the game (especially defense) they’re inferior to both Barney and Goins. Back in 2011 when the Blue Jays traded away both Aaron Hill and John McDonald to acquire Johnson, I thought to myself this Johnson guy must be pretty darn good if Toronto had to trade two players like Hill and McDonald to get him. How quickly I learned that the hype around Johnson was exaggerated, as he was a player with plus power, but poor defensively. There’s obviously some bias when I state the following, but I would have taken either McDonald or Hill by themselves over Johnson. The Blue Jays made the mistake once before of choosing Johnson over the middle infielders they had at the time (i.e. Hill and McDonald), why would Toronto risk making the same mistake again when Barney and Goins are just as capable as Johnson to get the job done?
If Ross Atkins thinks Johnson is an upgrade over Barney and Goins, think again. Johnson, at 35 years of age shouldn’t be considered an upgrade at all. Offensively he does provide more power than either Barney or Goins, but that in itself isn’t nearly enough to outweigh the defensive skills of Barney and Goins which are far superior to Johnson. In the early years of his big league career (2007-2010), Johnson was a good major league hitter, which was what prompted Toronto to give up so much to acquire him in 2011. By 2012 however (his only full season with Toronto), he was nowhere near the player he was earlier in his career, and his play has only continued to diminish since his forgetful 2012 season with the Blue Jays.
Sadly Devon Travis likely won’t be ready for the start of the season, but back when Travis went down with that shoulder injury in 2015, Goins stepped in and played some of the best baseball of his career. Having seen Johnson, Barney, and Goins all play for Toronto, I’d take Barney or Goins long before I’d ever take Johnson. The upside of Barney and Goins defensively, along with their contributions to the chemistry of this ball club are far more important than the boost of power that Johnson offers. The Blue Jays have more than enough power bats in the line-up as it is with Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales, Russell Martin, and Troy Tulowitzki. Toronto can afford to sacrifice a little power if it means having a defensive stalwart like Barney or Goins playing at 2nd.
God forbid if Travis is out a little while yet and the Blue Jays feel the need to fill his starting role with someone other than Barney or Goins, please look beyond a player like Johnson who we’ve all seen before and weren’t all that impressed with the first time.